MANILA, Philippines — China’s southern province of Hainan, which oversees the country’s territorial claims in South China Sea, has allowed “any entity or individual” to develop uninhabitated islands in the disputed waters in a bid to discourage rival claimants from occupying idle features, Chinese state media reported.
Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times reported on July 5 that the unoccupied reefs will be used for 50 years for tourism, aquaculture, amusement, development of salt and mineral industry, public welfare projects, and harbour and shipyard.
Developers should pay to the government for using those islands, Global Times said, adding that the development will mainly focus on uninhabited features in the Paracels, an island chain over which Beijing has territorial disputes with its neighbors.
“The development on uninhabited islands will maintain stability of South China Sea and dispel other countries’ attempts to invade and occupy our territorial sovereignty,” a Chinese scholar was quoted as saying by Global Times.
“China won’t develop controversial islands in the South China Sea as part of an agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nation,” the scholar stressed.
The Paracels, entirely occupied by China since 1974, are outside of the West Philippine Sea, a part of the South China Sea where Philippines claims to have exclusive economic zone. The Paracel chain is also claimed by Vietnam.
China recently stoked international alarm after it reportedly landed nuclear-capable strategic bombers on Woody Island in the Paracels, and installed missile systems on three Manila-claimed reefs in the strategic waterway, where trillion dollars worth of sea-borne goods pass every year.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made a stunning shift in his nation’s foreign policy since assuming office in June 2016, as he cozies up to Beijing while berating traditional treaty ally the United States.
But despite Duterte’s warm relations with China, the Philippines has a long history of mistrust of it as the two countries continue to spar over the resource-rich South China Sea.
Competing claimants, including the Philippines, have been beefing up civilian features in the contested sea in a bid to strengthen their claims.