China will start operating cruises to disputed islands in the South China Sea, as part of efforts to promote tourism in the region.
The China Daily reports that a new “large cruise ship” will start sailing to the Paracel Islands (known in China as the Xinsha Islands) in July. This will be the second liner to cruise to the disputed area, following the launch of a smaller ship earlier this year.
The cruises will operate to and from the port of Sanya, a popular resort destination on Hainan Island.
“[The new ship] will enable more Chinese nationals to view the scenery in the South China Sea,” Cai Chaohui, vice president of the Port Affairs Center in Sanya, was quoted saying. “I’m confident about the prospects of the Xisha tourism market, as many tourists want to have a look at the mysterious islands.”
China first started operating passenger cruises to the Paracels in March 2016, using a 300-passenger vessel to run up to five voyages per month from Sanya.
The announcement of the new cruises follows recent comments, also carried by the state-run China Daily, that the disputed islands could be turned into luxury Maldives-style tourism destinations.
Xiao Jie, mayor of Sansha – China’s administrative centre in the Paracels – said he is planning to “develop some islands and reefs to accommodate… tourists”. He added that development would only take place in areas that do not need a military presence.
The Paracel Islands are controlled by China, but parts of the archipelago are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.