VIETNAM on Monday demanded China stop sending cruise ships to the South China Sea in a response to one of Beijing’s latest steps to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway.
A Chinese cruise ship with more than 300 passengers visited the disputed Paracel Islands earlier this month.
“Vietnam strongly opposes this and demands China immediately stop and not repeat those activities,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said.
“Those actions have seriously violated Vietnam‘s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and international law.”
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 US$5 trillion of trade a year.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told reporters she had not seen the Vietnam’s comments, but reiterated China‘s claim to the Paracel Islands.
Countries competing to cement their rival claims have encouraged a growing civilian presence on disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The first cruises from China to the Paracel islands were launched by Hainan Strait Shipping Co in 2013.
Since then, two leisure cruise liners based out of what China calls Sansha city have made 120 trips around the Paracels, city mayor Xiao Jie said last Tuesday, on the sidelines of China‘s annual meeting of Parliament in Beijing.
In 2012, China set up Sansha, based on Woody Island in the Paracels, to administer its islands in the South China Sea, but its permanent population is no more than a few thousand. Many surrounding disputed islets and reefs are uninhabited.
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“The last three years have shown Paracel Island cruises are a very suitable type of tourism for Sansha,” Xiao said.
“So in the future, Sansha will press on with this type (of tourism) and will proactively expand trip routes.”
The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. – Reuters