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China Sends Tourist Cruise Ship to Disputed Islands

This aerial view of the city of Sansha o

The Coconut Fragrance Princess, a Chinese cruise ship, embarked on Sunday for the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. It is the first such venture to the tiny island group that is the focus of an international dispute between Vietnam, Taiwan, and China. The ship will tour a handful of islands and guests will be able to chat with local fishermen and enjoy watersport activities before heading back to Hainan, the island province in Southeast China.

Although it has a charming name, the Coconut Fragrance Princess is not quite the pleasure ship it seems. According to a report by Chinese newspaper Chu Tianjin, summarized here by the New York Times, “rooms sleep two to eight people, either with or without portholes, and all toilets are communal.” Moreover, only citizens from mainland China were allowed on board, with citizens from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and elsewhere being “politely refused.” Furthermore, “only people who are not too fat, have normal mobility and are aged 18-60 could take part.” Two thirds of the 300 people on board are government employees in Hainan, and most of the others seem to have some connection to the Communist Party.

Despite vehement protests from Vietnam, China has no intention of canceling the cruise or any future tourist trip to the islands. “Not counting ship workers, about 400 people monthly from across China will be able to view the scenery of the Xisha,” Chu Tianjin reported. (The Paracels are referred to as Xisha in China.)

This is a bold step to make the islands a practical tourist destination for ordinary civilians and thus further cement Beijing’s claim. The Coconut Fragrance Princess is just one ship, and small enough to avoid provoking a retaliation from Vietnam, but it’s still another step in the direction of enforcing China’s claim on disputed territory by any and all means.

[The city of Sansha on an island in the disputed Paracel chain. Image courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • Jim Luebke

    All somewhat close to the prime of physical health…

    Are they expecting an incident? (Are they planning to stage one?)

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