China is rolling out new uniforms to make troops on disputed South China Sea islands more comfortable

  • China is working to improve soldiers' quality of life on remote stations in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
  • Among those efforts is the roll out of upgraded tropical weather uniforms, as well as better logistics and medical care deemed essential for a strong, modern fighting force.
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Chinese soldiers on artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea have been sent upgraded tropical weather uniforms, state media said on Monday while reporting on new measures to keep personnel comfortable while stationed at the controversial outposts.

The uniforms are China's latest effort to bring improved daily essentials and better logistical support for People's Liberation Army troops on islands in the sensitive area that China claims but is challenged by neighbours and rivals such as Vietnam and the United States.

The kit includes camouflage clothing and inner wear made from breathable and quick-drying fabrics to help keep troops dry and moving in hot tropical weather, according to the Chinese military mouthpiece the PLA Daily.

The uniforms were sent to soldiers on Fiery Cross Reef, one of the seven artificial islands reclaimed by China from coral reefs since 2013 and now developed into a comprehensive support base, including airstrip, radars and a maritime rescue centre.

"The new combat clothing is … more suitable to wear in the South China Sea environment. It allows higher training efficiency and more vigorous patrol activities," soldier Li Zhenshuang was quoted in the report as saying.

Another soldier, Zhan Jianrong, agreed and said the new underwear was more comfortable.

Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy troops patrol on Woody Island, in the Paracel Archipelago, January 29, 2016.Thomson Reuters

Zhou Jiang, an officer in charge of procurement for a Southern Theatre Command navy unit, told the PLA Daily the newly designed clothes and shoes would help improve training performance and the PLA navy's procurement unit would continue to provide better performing clothing for soldiers in tropical areas.

Late last year, Xinhua state media reported that the PLA had provided boots that were 27% lighter and allowed greater agility for soldiers at Fiery Cross.

In earlier accounts of military lifestyle improvements, PLA navy personnel at Woody Island, also known as Yongxing Island in China, were reported to have harvested more than 750kg (1,650lbs) vegetables for troops from sandy beach terrain using advanced techniques.

In late 2020, the Chinese military commissioned a new hospital ship, the Nanyi 13, to provide mobile medical support in civilian and military missions in the South China Sea, Chinese media reported.

Nanyi 13 visits islands, filling a void in maritime medical rescue across the vast South China Sea, even though China has built several medical facilities on artificial islands.

Song Zhongping, a military analyst and a former instructor with the Second Artillery Corps, said the modernisation of China's military forces included better logistics support, helping soldiers to be at their strongest during actual combat.

"Better logistical support can save soldiers' maximum physical strength and help them engage in combat operations to safeguard Chinese sovereignty and interests," Song said.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest waterways and rich in natural resources. However, an international tribunal in 2016 dismissed China's claims, a ruling rejected by China.

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