A barge sails on the South China Sea on Dec. 24, 2007, in Yangjiang of Guangdong Province, China. (Photo : Getty Images)
China’s state-owned shipping giant COSCO has announced plans to offer cruises in the South China Sea as early as next month, with the first route going through Sanya City in the country’s southeast to the disputed Paracel Islands, Reuters reported on Monday.
The Paracels, known as the Xisha Islands in Chinese, are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
“It is practical to stimulate the local economy through development of tourism, logistics and infrastructure facilities,” COSCO chairman Xu Lirong was quoted by the China Daily as saying at a conference over the weekend.
COSCO signed an agreement in April with China National Travel Service Group Corp. and China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. to set up a cruise company that offers tourism services in the South China Sea.
Developing tourism services in the South China Sea is part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative and the responsibility of its state enterprises, COSCO said in a statement sent to Reuters.
China is staking its claim over 90 percent of the South China Sea, which has huge oil and natural gas reserves. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes around $5 trillion of trade each year.
The sea has seen an increasing number of skirmishes amid rising regional worries of Chinese expansion. In the previous week, an Indonesian naval vessel opened fire on a Chinese fishing boat near the Natuna Islands.
The inaugural COSCO route to the Xisha Islands will be followed by more routes in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits, with a gradual expansion to international routes, in an attempt to create China’s first national cruise brand, the company said.
Countries competing to bolster their rival claims in the South China Sea have encouraged a growing civilian presence on the disputed islands. The first cruises from China to the Paracel Islands were established by Hainan Strait Shipping Co. in 2013.
Beijing said it also plans to build Maldives-style resorts in the islands around the South China Sea.
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