China to Open Disputed Islands to Tourism

Reuters reports that China will soon be allowing tourists to visit disputed islands in the South China Sea:

China will this month start allowing tourists to visit the Paracel Islands, one of a group of disputed islets and reefs in the , state news agency Xinhua said, a move likely to irk rival claimant Vietnam.

A cruise ship that can accommodate 1,965 passengers is ready for sailing to the Paracels, known in Chinese as Xisha, Xinhua reported, citing ship owner Haihang Group Corp.

[…]”Tourists will eat and sleep on the cruise ships and can land on the islands for sightseeing” ahead of Labor Day on May 1, Tan Li, vice governor of China’s southernmost island province of Hainan, told Xinhua late on Saturday.

[…]”Prices will be relatively high due to the high costs of infrastructure construction,” Huang Huaru, general manager of a tourism agency in Hainan, told Xinhua.

of the Xisha Islands, also known as the Paracels, is disputed by Taiwan and Vietnam, but China has been in control of the island group since a military dispute with South Vietnam in 1974. Last year, China approved the establishment of Sansha City on Yongxing Island (aka Woody Island), now the administrative seat of the Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands (aka Macclesfield Bank), and Nansha Islands (aka Spratly Islands) – China’s sovereignty claims on all three island groups are contested.

In a report covering the soon-to-open travel destination, the Global Times mentions the islands’ ecological vulnerability and upcoming development plans for :

[…E]xperts said Sansha could only receive a small number of visitors provided the fragile environment there.

The founding of Sansha City will improve China’s management of the region and help coordinate efforts to develop the islands and protect the marine environment, said Zhao Zhongshe, director of the Hainan Provincial Department of Ocean and Fisheries.

Tan said local authorities will build more supply ships, ports as well as water supply and sewage treatment facilities to improve infrastructure in Sansha.

Meanwhile, authorities will also beef up ecological protection to protect island and marine resources and preserve the local biodiversity, he said.

As China’s middle class grows, they are spending more on travel. Last year, Chinese tourists were the world’s biggest spenders on trips abroad.