In addition to sending tourist-filled cruise ships to the South China Sea, China plans to build a host of luxury properties on islands in the hotly contested waters
Earlier this month, a Chinese cruise ship made a stop at the Paracel Islands, an archipelago in the heavily contested South China Sea. With more than 300 passengers on board, the ship has now become the centre of a public spat between Vietnam and China, as Vietnam has publically demanded on Monday that China stop sending cruise ships to the Paracel Islands.
“Vietnam strongly opposes this and demands that China respect Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and international law and immediately stop and not repeat those activities,” foreign ministry spokesperson Le Hai Binh told Reuters.
“Those actions have seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and international law.”
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported on 3 March that the Changle Princess cruise ship had sailed on a four-day voyage from the southern Chinese island of Hainan to the Paracel Islands, a collection of more than 30 islands and reefs known as Xisha in Chinese and Hoàng Sa in Vietnamese.
According to Reuters, China has said it also has plans to build hotels, shops, villas and luxury resorts throughout the South China Sea.
The Paracel Islands – which are claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and China – have long been a flashpoint in the region, with the US, China, the Philippines and Vietnam being just a few of the many countries that claim territory within the area.
China claims roughly 90% of the 3.5 million square km that make up the South China Sea, which sees $5 trillion worth of international trade flow through it each year.
Carl Thayer, a defence analyst at the University of New South Wales, told Southeast Asia Globe that Vietnam’s claim was yet another facet of a long-running legal and diplomatic row between the two countries.
“If it does not protest every action that China makes to consolidate China’s sovereignty, under international law Vietnam will be seen as acquiescing,” he said.
Thayer added that China’s decision to send cruise ships was a bold declaration of Beijing’s intent to claim sovereignty in the South China Sea.
“It also demonstrates China’s persistence in using every possible means – including tourism – to show that it’s in control.”