China opens disputed islands to tourism


China opens disputed islands to tourism

An aerial view of Sansha -- China's newest city, which is located on Woody Island and part of the Paracels.

Sightseeing cruises flagged to start in April on disputed island
Area is in a region claimed by a number of Asian countries
Sansha is considered by China to be its newest city

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Sightseeing cruises to China's newest city, Sansha, located on a disputed island in the South China Sea are set to commence this month, according to a Chinese official.
The move is certain to add to the dispute over sovereignty claims to the area.
Woody Island, known as Yongxing Island in Chinese, has a population of around 1,000 -- including military personnel. It is 300 kilometers southeast of Hainan and was established as China's latest prefecture last June.
The city of Sansha has the smallest land area but the biggest sea area in China.
Sansha's government has been set up to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands), the Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands) and the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands) -- which include Woody Island.
The islands are partly claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan.
The cruise tour statement is a sign China is bolstering its claim to the territory.
Visitors would not be allowed to stay on the island. Instead, cruise-goers would eat and sleep onboard and would only do sightseeing on the island, said Hainan deputy governor Tan Li at press conference at the annual Boao Forum for Asia at the weekend.
"We have started the planning and development of Sansha, including basic infrastructure, at full speed," Tan was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua News Agency (Chinese).
"Sansha's sightseeing routes, scenic spots and docking locations have been confirmed. We are hoping to begin [the cruise operation] before May 1."
Some 12 projects, including a berth for larger supply ship, fresh water supply, sewage and garbage treatment facilities are still under development in Sansha.
The first phrase of Yongxing Pier has completed and begun trial operation. When completed, it's believed that the route would be served by the 223-meter cruise Henna, according to Hong Kong media.
Sansha's first mayor, Xiao Jie, said last month the development and improvement of Sansha city will strengthen China's sovereignty of the islands.
Xiao said that the priority would be conservation of the natural habitat, according to the state's travel network, The Travel Channel.

Source: China opens disputed islands to tourism

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