BEIJING, Sept 2 China is opening a new route for
cruise ships to sail to the disputed Paracel Islands in the
South China Sea, state media reported on Tuesday, in a move that
is likely to irritate Vietnam.
The Coconut Princess embarked on Tuesday on its maiden
voyage to the islands from Sanya, a city popular with tourists
in the southern island province of Hainan.
Ties between the two Communist neighbours have been strained
this year by a dispute over a Chinese oil rig dispatched to
disputed waters that triggered a wave of anti-Chinese riots in
China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy rich South
China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan
lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about $5
trillion of trade a year.
On four-day cruises, tourists will visit three of the
islets, Xinhua said, where they can "play beach volleyball,
dive, fish and take wedding photos".
China began cruises on a trial basis from Haikou, also
located in Hainan, in April 2013, but the shorter route from
Sanya will now take over, Xinhua reported.
China said last month it planned to build lighthouses on
five islets in the sea, including two in the Paracel
(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Alison Williams)