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Southeast Asia, explained

Surf, sun and simmering tension in the Chinese-claimed Sansha Islands

Government pushes cruise-ship tourism in disputed territory
Sansha islands south china sea 2012 09 11Enlarge
A photo posted to the state-run outlet China Daily site of a cruise ship traveling to Sansha, China's newest city. (Screengrab)

Want to visit China's newest, most exclusive, state-promoted island hideaway?

Go right ahead. But you'll have to enter a hotly disputed oceanic territory to get there.

By cruising towards the Sansha Islands, you are entering territory claimed by Vietnam, which adamantly insists the islands are Vietnamese soil. The city's establishment several months ago as a Chinese center of governance for the South China Sea is also considered outrageous in the nearby Philippines, which condemns China for stationing troops and erecting military outposts on Sansha.

But that hasn't stopped China's state-run press from publishing a flurry of articles promoting tourism in Sansha -- translation three sandbanks -- a barely inhabited string of islands scattered far from the mainland.

China Daily has a series of Sansha photos that include one shot of woman stepping along an idyllic beach. The Shenzhen Daily describes Sansha's "blustery island winds" and "palm trees." Yet another China Daily article quotes an island hopper who gushes that the "dazzling blue sea and sky really took my breath away." The Global Times tells of locals thrilled over the islands' coming economic development.

How do you get there? Perhaps by contacting this tour agency, which is already promoting its Sansha packages.

Can China actually convince tourists to go out of their way to visit tiny specks of land in the middle of nowhere? Perhaps. If so, their sun-and-fun holidays will provide the Chinese government one more way to rationalize their dominance of this far-flung territory.

http://www.globalpost.com/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/sansha-islands