China plans to let tourists visit the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea this year, the vice governor of Hainan province, which administers the group of islands, said Tuesday.
 
"Xisha must be opened for tourism within this year," Tan Li said at a provincial conference addressing tourism on Tuesday.
 
Tan said that relevant departments are making preparations in accordance with this timetable.
 
China’s State Council in late 2009 announced a guideline to develop the tropical island province of Hainan into a destination for international tourists, and the guideline also outlined that tourism would be promoted on the Xisha Islands.
 
The Xisha Islands are a cluster of close to 40 islets, sandbanks and reefs.
 
Earlier this month, a cruise ship owned by the Hainan Strait Shipping Co. launched a trial voyage to the islands.
 
Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Xisha Islands. However, China has reiterated that its sovereignty over the Xisha Islands is indisputable.
 
 
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