China opens disputed Paracel Islands to tourists

China Featured South East Asia - April 29th, 2013
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A Chinese cruise ship set sail for the first time to a disputed island in the South China Sea, state media reported, a move that could stir fresh tensions in the waters amid protests from neighboring countries.

Tourists paid a hefty sum between 7,000 yuan ($1,135) and 9,000 yuan for the four-day voyage to the Paracel Islands, known as Xisha in China. Only passengers in “good health, which includes having normal weight” are permitted on the trip, Global Times said. The tours is set for two trips a month if the first proves successful.

Global Times defended Beijing’s decision to organize tours to the contested Paracel Islands, following its development of Sansha city on the Spratlys – another territory at the heart of a territorial dispute between China and other Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

“China’s Xisha tourism has nothing to do with its neighboring countries,” said Ju Hailong, a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies at Jinan University.

The Thanh Nien News called China’s latest move as a “unilateral provocative action” and a violation of the a code of conduct in the South China Sea which Beijing was committed to follow. Vietnam has “incontestable” sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratlys Islands, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.