China to open disputed islands to tourism
April 8, 2013 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
An aerial view of Sansha -- China's newest city, which is located on Woody Island and part of the Paracels.
- Sightseeing cruises flagged to start in April on disputed island
- Area is in a region claimed by a number of Asian countries
- China considers Sansha its newest city
Hong Kong (CNN) -- Sightseeing cruises to China's newest city, Sansha, located on a disputed island in the South China Sea, are set to commence this month, according to a Chinese official.
The move is certain to add to the dispute over sovereignty claims to the area.
Woody Island, known as Yongxing Island in Chinese, has a population of about a thousand, including military personnel. It's located 300 kilometers southeast of Hainan and was established as China's latest prefecture in June 2012.
The city of Sansha has the smallest land area, but the largest sea area in China.
Sansha's government has been set up to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands), the Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands) and the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands), which include Woody Island.
The islands are partly claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan.
Shown in the map above are the islands. Closest to Sanya are the Paracel Islands. Further east is the Macclesfield Bank and south are the Spratlys.
Islands in dispute.
The cruise tour statement is a sign that China is bolstering its claim to the territory.
Visitors won't be allowed to stay on the island. Instead, cruise-goers will eat and sleep onboard and only sightsee on the island, said Hainan deputy governor Tan Li at press conference at the annual Boao Forum for Asia over the weekend.
"We have started the planning and development of Sansha, including basic infrastructure, at full speed," Tan was quoted by state-run Xinhua News Agency (Chinese).
"Sansha's sightseeing routes, scenic spots and docking locations have been confirmed. We are hoping to begin [the cruise operation] before May 1."
Some 12 projects, including a berth for larger supply ship, freshwater supply, sewage and garbage treatment facilities are under development in Sansha.
The first phrase of Yongxing Pier has been completed and begun trial operation.
Sansha's first mayor, Xiao Jie, said last month the development and improvement of Sansha city will strengthen China's sovereignty of the islands.
Xiao said that the priority would be conservation of the natural habitat, according to the state's travel network, The Travel Channel.
Part of complete coverage on
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1001 GMT (1801 HKT)
Photographer gives Hong Kong skyscrapers a radical new look.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
A cage-free shark photographer gets up close and personal with the ocean's most feared predators.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1428 GMT (2228 HKT)
Conde Nast Traveler reader survey praises antipodean cities but gives South Africa's biggest city a wide berth.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0122 GMT (0922 HKT)
After the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Canal, here are 10 other ways to fall in love with the country.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
In Taiwan, tourists pay to ride along in local cabs, letting fate -- and locals fares -- decide where they'll go.
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
It's largely devoid of human life, dark, cold and subject to dangerous levels of geological volatility -- the Arctic is surely the worst possible destination for an arts festival.
It may be Switzerland's banking capital, but Zurich's real wealth lies in the village-like charm of its cobbled streets and Alpine scenery.
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1854 GMT (0254 HKT)
We've all wondered what it's like to die. Now an outfit in Shanghai says it can provide the experience.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT)
Our special report details who, what and how much it takes to bring you the best in IFE (we'll explain).
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 0632 GMT (1432 HKT)
What pizza is to New York and the cheesesteak is to Philly, the food truck has become to Los Angeles -- essential
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 0903 GMT (1703 HKT)
If you've ever clicked on a list of forests to see before you die, chances are you've already seen a photo of this stunner.
August 8, 2014 -- Updated 0018 GMT (0818 HKT)
The military coup in Thailand has led to a massive change in Phuket, weeding out decades of misuse and abuse at one of the world's most popular holiday destinations.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 0956 GMT (1756 HKT)
With a mix of Indian, African, French and Chinese influences, Mauritius represents a cultural smorgasbord.
August 8, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
There's nothing like high drama on a beach.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 0957 GMT (1757 HKT)
Home to big game, sparkling beaches, and stunning sunsets, Malawi makes for an idyllic travel destination.
Today's five most popular stories