HAIKOU - South China's Hainan province will launch a pilot programme this year that encourages people to bid for the rights to exploit the waters in the South China Sea, while analysts believe the move is intended to safeguard territorial sovereignty, the Global Times reported.
Mr Zhang Jun, director of the provincial department of oceans and fisheries, was quoted by China National Radio as saying that the pilot programme will be started in territorial waters with huge market demands.
The rights include 13 types of marine exploitation such as aquaculture, transportation, energy and mineral resource exploration and tourism, according to the State Ocean Administration (SOA).
Mr Zhang pledged that the approval process for use of territorial waters and uninhabited islands will be improved and a bidding or auction system for land reclamation and uninhabited islands will also be drafted, while the authorities would supervise all development projects.
"There should be less government intervention in resource allocation and they should give full play to the market to create motivation for the marine economy," Mr Liu Cigui, head of the SOA, was quoted as saying by the Shanghai Securities News.
Mr Wang Xiaopeng, a maritime border expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that it is natural that Hainan plays a leading role in market development of territorial waters as it is the largest marine province in China.
"While such economic measures aren't the same as policies regarding sovereignty over the waters, they will make a de facto contribution to safeguarding the sovereign rights of the disputed waters," Mr Wang noted.
According to a report released by the China Institute for Marine Affairs, the ocean, with its affluent resources, has become the new target of competition among different countries.
The report stressed that the ability to explore and exploit the sea will help build experience and boost overall maritime security.
More than 3,500 territorial water development projects have been approved in Hainan since 1988, and they are mainly focused on fisheries, transportation, industry and tourism.
The marine development blueprint - from 2011 to 2020 - has divided its territorial waters into more than 200 functional zones, with energy exploration included, according to the website of the local fishery department.
"The projects are very likely to promote the development of the city of Sansha in Hainan, and they will also play key roles in protecting China's marine resources of the South China Sea," Mr Wang noted.