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China to open disputed Paracel islands to tourism

Beijing, Apr 9 (): State news agency Xinhua said that China will start allowing tourists to visit the Paracel Islands, one of a group of disputed islets and reefs in the South China Sea this month, a move likely to trouble rival claimant, Vietnam.

Paracels islands, known in Chinese as Xisha, are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. But, China has controlled the islands post a short war with South Vietnam in 1974.

Tan Li, executive vice governor of the southern-most province of Hainan was quoted as saying by the state news agency Xinhua in a Sunday report that China is scheduled to let tourists visit the Xisha Islands ahead of the forthcoming May Day holiday.

The Xinhua news agency also added that the tourists would live on board ships, as the largest island has only one hotel and no fresh water.

A cruise ship is ready for sailing to the Paracels and the ship can accommodate 1,965 passengers and has a gross registered tonnage of 47,000 tons. Hainan Harbour and Shipping Holdings is building another cruise ship.

The tourists can sleep and eat on the cruise ships and can land on the islands for sightseeing and the details of the tours will be released on a later date, said Tan Li. He said local authorities have plans of building more supply ships and infrastructure in Sansha, including ports, water supply and sewage treatment facilities.

Huang Huaru, general manager of a tourism agency in Hainan, said that the tour prices will be relatively high due to the high costs of tourism infrastructure construction.

Experts say that this is the latest move as another step in China’s battle to show that the potentially oil-rich area is Chinese.

The waters are believed to have vast unused reserves of natural gas and oil that could hypothetically place China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other claimant nations alongside the likes of Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Qatar.