Vietnam is risking China’s wrath by running a politically sensitive holiday cruise to a group of islands in the disputed South China Sea.
Special six-day trip
The special offer six-day trip to the contested Spratly Islands is being sold for $800 (£520) as a once-in-a-lifetime experience for patriotic Vietnamese, promising “wonderful reefs in sparkling colours, in ravishing, fantastic beauty”.
The cruise, which will include a visit to two reefs and two islands in the region, as well as the opportunity to try night-fishing, is a trial ahead of the country potentially launching scheduled passenger flights to the area and including the islands on its tourism map.
Promoted on Ho Chi Minh City’s website, the cruise comes as Vietnam pursues a bolder agenda in pushing its claims in the face of China’s own growing assertiveness, according to Reuters.
Vietnam has occupied the Spratly Islands, or Truong Sa in Vietnamese, a remote archipelago with no indigenous population, for some time despite rival claims from China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines. The islands lie across some of the world’s most important shipping lines and have access to potentially vast energy reserves.
The cruise’s promotional literature said: “Travelling to Truong Sa… means the big trip of your life, reviving national pride and citizens’ awareness of the sacred maritime sovereignty of the country.
“Tourists will no longer feel Truong Sa as far away, the blue Truong Sa ocean will be deep in people’s hearts.”
VIP hotels rooms and the chance to fly in on private helicopters are available for high-rolling cruise customers.
The actions of China
The cruise mirrors those offered by China on ships like its Coconut Princess, and illustrates a growing civilian presence in the South China Sea as countries vie to cement competing claims.
China has been criticised for extensive reclamation work in the area and moves to turn submerged rocks into man-made structures. Last week the United States issued a warning to Beijing about its behaviour in the region.
President Barack Obama called for an end to China’s “aggressive actions” after surveillance showed Beijing had placed mobile artillery systems in contested territory.
Despite close party-to-party ties with Communist neighbour China and nearly $60 billion of annual trade, analysts say Vietnam has taken a harder line since a fresh territorial row erupted last year and wants to boost diplomatic and military alliances.
Its media ran news last month of the opening of a new school on the Spratlys, and Vietnamese troops stationed there joined counterparts from the Philippines in a football match.