China To Build Resorts On Controversial South China Sea Islands – Tourists, Not Military Personnel To Stay In Maldives-Style Hotels?

China intends to develop the artificially created islands in the South China Sea into a tourist destination. The country will build Maldives-style resorts on the controversial islands and usher in tourism, insisted a high-ranking official, according to the China Daily newspaper.

China is turning some of the artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea into Maldives-style resorts, claimed the state-run newspaper quoting a top official on Friday. The resorts will offer venues for public events including weddings with new developments on areas that don’t need a military presence.

Senior Hainan official Xiao Jie stressed that China is planning to transform several islands in the South China Sea into resorts and tourist destinations. He added that the government intends to develop a few of the islands in a tourist destination that rivals Maldives.

“Certain islands and reefs that do not need a military presence will be developed into key sites on a Maritime Silk Road. We will develop some islands and reefs to accommodate a select number of tourists. It will be an orderly and gradual procedure.”

Xiao Jie is the mayor of Sansha, the capital of Woody Island in the Paracel chain. He added that the islands would extend leisure and lifestyle activities, including sea plane rides, fishing and diving tours, as well as seaside weddings, reported Japan Times. Sansha city is a very crucial region for China as the country uses it as an administrative base for all the natural and artificial islands.

Interestingly, China had already begun to conduct tourist cruises to the South China Sea in 2013. Though the singular cruise liner was being operated on trial basis, it has served the country well in boosting the civilian presence there. Xiao admitted that the trip to the islands isn’t easy and people still undertake it for patriotic reasons. The resorts will allow development of jobs, he added.

“It is not an easy trip, but many people with a patriotic spirit want to try it. The arrival of tourists will nourish the need for divers and windsurfers.”

China has staked claim to the maritime region, but other countries like Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam aren’t happy. The energy-rich waters offer a reliable sea passage for about $5 trillion worth of trade that takes place every year, reported Reuters. The country has significantly boosted its presence in the disputed South China Sea waters by actively and aggressively building a number of artificial islands. Within a few short years, the country has raised the seafloor by dredging sand and dumping it on the islands. The pace of development has worried the neighboring countries. They insist that China intends to have active military presence in the region, which threatens the sovereignty of the nations.

Besides an additional cruise liner called the “Dream of the South China Sea,” China may soon start regular and direct flights to the southern Chinese island of Hainan, reported The Straits Times. Xiao added he hopes the country may eventually start a direct service to Beijing as well.

Despite China’s insistence that the islands will be accessible to tourists, the country hasn’t clarified if foreigners would be allowed to visit. Until the date, the country has denied permission to anyone with a foreign nationality. Moreover, only Chinese nationals have been permitted to go on tours there.

Satellite photos of the artificial islands clearly show construction of airfields and presence of other military facilities, including surface-to-air missiles and advanced radar systems. Military experts point out the region is excellent for the creation of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the near future.

However, the country has long insisted that the islands have civilian infrastructure.

[Photo by Digital Globe/Getty Images]