Chinese officials and administrators of a disputed chain of islands claimed by both China and Vietnam are planning to turn the area into a Maldives-like tourist destination.
In an interview with China Daily, the major of Sansha city, Xiao Jie, explained his vision for the transformation of the Paracel Islands, known as Xisha in Chinese and Hoàng Sa in Vietnamese.
Sansha city lies on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands. It is inhabited by 1,500 residents and since February has also been home to a surface-to-air missile system which China installed shortly after pledging not to militarize the South China Sea.
“We will develop some islands and reefs to accommodate a select number of tourists,” said Xiao, who added that the sites to be developed would be ones which did not require a military presence. “It will be an orderly and gradual procedure.”
Cruise ships have already been sailing from Sanya, Hainan province to the islands since April 2013. Reuters reports that authorities are planing to start a second cruise ship link in a move which is sure to anger Vietnam.
“The cost of a cruise ticket is not too high, about 4,000 to 5,000 yuan ($610 to $760). It is very popular and not easy to get a ticket,” said Xiao. “It is not an easy trip, but many people with a patriotic spirit want to try it. They also want to have a taste of ocean life.”
China claims most of the waters in the South China Sea through which $5 trillion worth of trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have competing claims.
Over the past few years, China has begun fortifying islands which lie within its claims and constructing artificial islands in the Spratly chain. The development of tourism on the Paracel Islands represents the a far softer approach by which to assert their claim on the territory.