China is seeking investors to expand fishing, tourism and oil and gas exploration around three disputed island groups in the South China Sea, state media said yesterday. 
 
Officials in the new offshore district of Sansha in Hainan province planned “intensified efforts to modernise its fisheries and develop marine oil and gas,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Luo Baoming, the ruling Communist Party’s provincial leader, as saying. 
  
The Hainan Provincial Fisheries Research Institute said an annual catch of up to 2 million tonnes of fish, about 40 per cent of the estimated annual resources in the area, would be sustainable. But the current annual catch was only 80,000 tonnes, the agency said, without saying if that figure included catches from neighbouring countries. “We can send at least another 1,450 fishing vessels to develop fishing grounds in the South China Sea,” it quoted Li Xiangmin, the institute’s president, as saying. 
 
The agency said officials in Sansha had planned 31 “major projects” with estimated investment totalling 13.3 billion yuan ($2.1 billion), including opening the disputed Xisha Islands to tourists later this month. The development plans could increase friction with Vietnam, which also claims the Xisha islands, and other South-east Asian neighbours. 
 
The new city-level Sansha district was set up in June to administer all islands in the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha groups, which are known internationally as the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank and the Spratly Islands. China lays an all-encompassing claim to the South China Sea, a vital shipping area that is also believed to be rich in oil and mineral resources.
 
 

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