Beijing is attempting to downplay the territorial dispute in the South China Sea by laying a new card on the table: tourism.
Asia News Network reports that a city in southern China plans to turn the disputed Spratly Islands into a tourist destination. Beijing, under a 10-year tourism development plan, will extend cruise routes to the Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha) and Paracels (Xisha Islands).
According to the World Tourism Organization, the move will apparently “foster friendship and understanding” among the rival claimants “as long as China does not oppose reciprocal plans from rival countries.” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said that China would ensure “freedom and safety of navigation” in the West Philippine Sea at a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prior to the announcement of the tourism plan. The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said it took Yang’s statement “with guarded optimism”.
The South China Sea, while a vital shipping lane to global trade, holds potential rich oil resources in the islands. The territorial dispute have been a political flashpoint in the region that threatened to spill over into a military conflict. China established a city in one of the disputed territories to administer the chain of islands, sparking opposition from Vietnam and the Philippines.