By Li Qian | 2012-4-6 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
CHINA'S tourism authorities yesterday denied saying that the government was planning to allow tourists to visit the Xisha Islands in a bid to reassert sovereignty over a scattering of islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
China National Radio yesterday quoted Deng Xiaogang, vice mayor of Haikou City, as saying a cruise was likely to be launched this year to bring tourists to the Xisha Islands and, later, to other uninhabited islands in the region.
A luxury cruise ship named the Coconut Princess would take tourists from Haikou and Sanya cities in Hainan Province to the Xisha Islands, the radio network said in its report.
Located southeast of Hainan, the Xisha Islands consist of 22 islands, seven sandbanks and a dozen reefs. Only Yongxing, the biggest of the islands and a sanctuary for birds, is suitable for landing.
There are no mobile phone signals or Internet access, but visitors can make a phone call from a post office on the island, the report said.
Wang Zhifa, deputy director of the National Tourism Administration, was also quoted as saying: "The Xisha Islands tourism plan enables us to guard the frontier and stake our claims to these islands."
However, the website of the People's Daily cited Deng as saying he had never spoken to the media about the issue.
"(I) don't understand anything about tourism in the Xisha Islands," Deng told the newspaper. "All the media reports are fabricated."
Li Guoqiang, a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher who had taken part in a Xisha's tourism development feasibility study, said the islands' ecosystem was too vulnerable to accept large numbers of tourists at present.
"We haven't worked out a scientific plan that can open tourism and protect ecosystem at the same time," Li told the People's Daily, adding that obstacles remained concerning the islands' tourism capacity and safety issues.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in reply to a question about the possibility of promoting tourism in the Xisha, said yesterday that the islands' sovereignty indisputably belonged to China.