China’s largest shipping corporation is planning to start cruise lines in the South China Sea next month even as territorial disputes in the region continue. State-run China Daily newspaper reported Tuesday the first route to Paracel Islands is likely to be from Sanya city in China’s southeast.
“It is practical to stimulate the local economy through development of tourism, logistics and infrastructure facilities," Xu Lirong, chairman of China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company, or COSCO, said at a conference over the weekend, according to the daily.
The state-owned company signed a contract in April with China National Travel Service Group Corp. and China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. to set up a cruise company for tourism services in the South China Sea. COSCO also said it is planning to develop other routes in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits with expansion to international routes in order to build China’s first national cruise brand, Reuters reported.
The long-contested region of the South China Sea, almost all of which is claimed by China, is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, all of who have conflicting claims to the waters through which over $5 trillion of maritime trade passes annually. China has been building runways and ports on islands in the South China Sea to assert its claim over the region.
The world’s second-largest economy is also planning to make islands in the Paracel archipelago a tourist hub, and it has already built sports facilities on its artificial islands of Spratly archipelago, also in the contested area. After starting tourist cruises to the South China Sea, trials for which began in 2013, China also plans to turn the islands and reefs into destinations for weddings.
China’s assertive nature in the disputed region has attracted criticism from its neighbors and the United States. However, Beijing has consistently defended its actions, saying it does not have any intention of starting a conflict and that its operations will add to the safety of the region.