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BEIJING — China has deployed a new weapon to the hotly-disputed waters of the South China Sea: a Grammy-nominated superstar.
Song Zuying has performed with the likes of Celine Dion and Plácido Domingo. But this week the singer sang for workers at Fiery Cross Reef, one of seven man-made islands built by China in the fiercely-contested Spratly archipelago.
The United States has criticized Beijing's massive construction project in the archipelago, which also features runways capable of accommodating military aircraft.
Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines and other countries have overlapping territorial claims to the waters.
Song's performance Tuesday was backed up by a 50-member troupe of musicians, actors and entertainers — one of several stops on a broader tour of the artificially reclaimed islands this week.
The 49-year-old artist — who holds the rank of rear admiral in the Chinese Navy — led a two-and-a-half-hour show that included numbers such as "Ode to the South Sea Defenders," China's government news agency Xinhua reported.
It wasn't all about the music, however. China also flexed the scale of its increasing regional dominance, flaunting its airport runway, industrial-scale building works, roads and a giant warship on national television.
"We are extremely excited!" a soldier named Huang Quntian told the government-run Xinhua news agency.
The tour comes as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague decides on a case brought by the Philippines against China's claim that it owns most of the South China Sea.
The court, whose authority is rejected by China, is widely expected to rule in favor of the Philippines.
Chen Xiangmiao, an analyst at the government-supported National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said Song's performance showed how important Beijing views its claim over the Spratlys.
"That Song, a very famous singer, has gone there for high-level performance shows that our leaders give great importance to our islands' construction," he told NBC News. "The entertainment was an easy way for the Chinese people to see the fruits of our construction there, it will make them happy and boost their confidence."