Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Island Issues

Asia: China Stakes its Claim by Opening Disputed Islands to Tourism

Small disputed islands in Asia-Pacific are being promoted as exciting new tourism destinations, solidifying China’s growing influence over the region.

(Disputed Yongxing Island in the Paracels)

(Disputed Yongxing Island in the Paracels)

In past centuries, countries seeking to establish dominion over a territory had to build and maintain a costly military base. Now, tourism appears to be the new frontier when it comes to gaining the upper hand in island disputes.

China has been at the forefront of disagreements over which country owns what islands – and the valuable energy and fishing resources offshore – with hotly contested political battles ongoing with Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The superpower has also been fighting for allies within the small island nations of the South Pacific, and investment in tourism – such as the recent news about a massive Chinese hotel development on Yap in the Caroline Islands – is being used as an effective way to keep friendly relations.

When it comes to islands that are closer to home, China has gotten busy building new cities and planning to establish a population base on these remote outposts. Woody, or Yongxing Island, found several hundred kilometres of Hainan Province in the disputed Paracel Islands, is just one such example.

The island, also claimed by Vietnam, was named as a prefecture of China just last year, but its development has moved extraordinarily fast. It was recently announced the government would begin promoting cruises to Yongxing’s under-construction city of Sansha later in April.

(Duncan Island image from Wikipedia)

(Duncan Island image from Wikipedia)

China is planning on making Sansha the administrative head of its South China Sea disputed territories, including the rest of the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and the Macclesfield Bank, a vast underwater atoll to the north of the Spratlys. Other parts of the Paracels, like Duncan Island, are also being developed by China.

The gleaming city envisioned for Yongxing is still in the early stages of construction, but its completion is a top priority, according to the deputy governor of Hainan, Tan Li. “We have started the planning and development of Sansha, including basic infrastructure, at full speed,” he told the Chinese state news agency, according to CNN.

“Sansha’s sightseeing routes, scenic spots and docking locations have been confirmed,” he said. “We are hoping to begin [the cruise operation] before May 1.” Tan also made clear that the islands would not be exploited, but that the government would be making conservation a strong focus.

While it may be an unusual way of settling territorial disagreements, if these battles can be fought bloodlessly with resort developments and cruise ships as opposed to military bases and cruise missiles, it certainly seems like progress.

Read more about this story: CNN

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