China / Society

Zhejiang examines ideas to develop uninhabited islands

By Shi Yingying in Shanghai (China Daily) Updated: 2012-12-08 01:15

Zhejiang's legislature started to discuss a draft regulation on Thursday on how to develop, use and manage uninhabited islands, aiming to better protect the first batch of unoccupied islands made available to developers by the State Oceanic Administration last year.

The draft said applicants will gain the right to use uninhabited islands through means such as bidding, auctions and listings for the purposes of tourism, entertainment and industry.

The legislature met in Zhoushan, the only prefecture-level city in China consisting solely of islands.

At a price of 20 million yuan ($3.15 million), Ningbo Gaobao Investment, which deals in real estate and tourism development, won a three-way bidding war for the right to use Ningbo's Dayangyu — China's first island available for auction — for 50 years last November.

Yang Weihua, general manager of Ningbo Gaobao, said 20 million yuan is a reasonable price for the island with rich natural resources, especially in vegetation and seafood, and the company planned to turn the island into a luxury resort.

"It also mentioned in the draft that the local government has the right to take back the island if the developer doesn't do anything with the island within two years after gaining the right to use it," said an official surnamed Wu from the Zhejiang government's office of legislative affairs.

Wu said the draft is innovative as it's the first provincial-level regulation on unoccupied islands.

"The Island Protection Law has sections about uninhabited islands, but it doesn't have too much detail," he said. "Even this new regulation is about the islands' development, utilization and management. A big part of it is about how to protect the islands themselves."

According to China's Island Protection Law, citizens can use uninhabited islands for up to 50 years after obtaining approval from local governments, ecologists and environmentalists. The new regulation looks into the details on natural resources and natural landscape protection and lists requirements for freshwater protection and limits on quarrying.

Making serious changes to the islands, such as altering geographic features, won't be permitted. Violators could face fines of up to 50,000 yuan, according to the draft.

"It's not all about developers' obligations, we also make their rights clear," said Wu. A certificate would be granted to ensure the developer's right to use the island, he said.

For Ni Dingkang, who is in charge of renting out the islands for the Zhoushan ocean and fisheries bureau, such a draft regulation is extremely helpful in his daily work as "it offered a great deal of detail on how to rent out the islands".

"I've been busy fielding telephone calls and visits from eager investors since the State Oceanic Administration released that long list of islands last year, but in most cases I've got to end the conversation with 'No, you cannot buy the island and do whatever you want'," Ni said.

"Many of the potential investors are thinking along the line of: 'Can I connect the unoccupied island to the nearby big one and make it the dock for my shipyard in the future?' But they can't, and now we have the regulation to tell them why they can't do it," he said.

As of April 2011, private citizens and companies have faced no legal barriers to rent the unoccupied islands off the coast of East China's Zhejiang province — most of which are the size of a soccer field. Among the 176 available islands off Zhejiang, Fujian, Hainan, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong and Liaoning provinces as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, there are 31 in Zhejiang alone.

Only a few have been rented out so far, according to Wu.

Zhejiang has more than 2,900 islands. More than 90 percent of them are uninhabited.

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