China eyes eight cruise ships to serve disputed South China Sea

A man seen standing near a map of China including an insert with red dotted lines showing the South China Sea.
A man seen standing near a map of China including an insert with red dotted lines showing the South China Sea. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Up to eight Chinese ships will offer cruises to the South China Sea over the next five years, a state-run newspaper said on Thursday (July 21), as Beijing continues to promote tourism to the disputed waters.

Sanya International Cruise Development Co Ltd, a joint venture by COSCO Shipping, China National Travel Service (HK) Group Corp and China Communications Construction Co Ltd, will buy between five and eight ships, the official China Daily reported.

It will also build four cruise liner docks in Sanya, a Chinese resort city on the southern island province of Hainan, the newspaper added.

Mr Liu Junli, chairman of Sanya International Cruise, said the company is already operating the "Dream of the South China Sea"cruise ship and plans to add another two cruise ships by next summer, the report said.

The ships will travel to the Crescent group of islands, part of the Paracels, and is also "considering a cruise around the South China Sea at the appropriate time", it added.

Hotels, villas and shops will all be built on the Crescent group, the report said.

It is not clear if foreigners will be allowed on these cruises or if they will be allowed to visit China's holdings in the South China Sea.

China claims 90 per cent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about US$5 trillion (S$6.76 trillion) of trade a year.

Countries competing to cement their rival claims have encouraged a growing civilian presence on disputed islands in the South China Sea. The first cruises from China to the Paracel islands were launched by Hainan Strait Shipping Co in 2013.

Beijing has also said it wants to build Maldives-style resorts around the South China Sea.

China has refused to recognise a ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague that invalidated its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea and did not take part in the proceedings brought by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).