A senior Hainan official has vowed to kickstart tourism to the disputed Xisha Islands in the west of South China Sea this year, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

"Xisha tourism must start this year," said Tan Li, deputy governor of Hai’nan, during a meeting on the province’s tourism development. He urged all relevant government organs to "organize the year’s work according to this countdown".

The mainland had long been planning to develop tourism in Xisha, which is also being claimed by Vietnam. Earlier this month, a yacht named Coconut Princess (椰香公主) has finished its first trial in Xisha.

Analysts say tourism to Xisha Islands could help China proclaim its sovereignty of this territory which is rich in oil and marine resources.

China accused Vietnam government of occupying the islands and extracting oil and other resources from disputed waters.

On March 4, China arrested 21 Vietnamese fishermen who crossed the border and found 25 kilograms of explosives and 85 detonators on the ship. China released them on April 20 after they gave guarantees that they would never cross the border again.

Vietnamese navy vessels are also reported to have approached the Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island on March 22 and 26.

Earlier this month, Deng Xiaogang, deputy director of Hai’nan Tourism Development Commission, was quoted by the media as saying Hainan would take steps to develop tourism to Xisha Islands.

Those remarks were quickly denied by the National Bureau of Tourism which said Deng had been away from the post for over six months. Deng himself said he had never been interviewed by any media on Xisha tourism.

SOURCE: Shanghaiist
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