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A gun turret built by Japanese invaders during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) on Yongxing Island. Photo by Huang Yiming / China Daily
Could Sansha become China's Maldives?
According to tourism experts and businessmen the answer is: yes, as long as the city continues to open its doors and boost infrastructure construction.
No civilian planes are yet permitted to fly to Sansha. However, ferry services are already seeing a boom in business.
The Coconut Princess cruise ship, which made its maiden voyage in April, takes visitors to Yongxing Island twice a month, weather permitting.
So far, it has made 16 trips, ferrying almost 40,000 people and 7,000 metric tons of goods.
The only other vessel transporting tourists to Sansha is the Qiongsha No 3, a supply ship, which has docked at the islands 70 times.
"We've just finished a plan for transportation between islands, and we are hoping to get approval soon," Sansha Mayor Xiao Jie said.
Mo Qun will be hoping that the improved transportation will eventually open the door to air travel.
The general manager of Meiya Air, which in May became the first to be licensed by the Civil Aviation Administration of China to operate amphibious services, hailed the cruise service as "marking a new chapter for island travel for China".
Despite still awaiting approval, his company has bought five amphibious aircraft for island-to-island trips in Sansha to cater to high-end tourism.
Compared with an 18-hour cruise on the Coconut Princess, a 70-minute flight would attract more people to the islands, Mo said.
Fishermen are just looking forward to more tourists, regardless of how they get there.
Li Qiansan, 53, said he expects his annual income to double as the island opens to the Chinese mainland.
However, Xiao said tourism development also needs to be sustainable and he urged the central government to establish an underwater heritage protection zone to protect relics along the ancient marine silk route.
The ancient marine silk road in South China Sea is a historical network of interlinking trade routes between China and the West, including shipwrecks carrying exported porcelain, and settlements established by Chinese inhabitants as early as 1,000 years ago.
"These heritage sites are important proof of Chinese ancestors' early development of the South China Sea," Xiao said. "Protecting them is significant for our studies on history and the development of tourism."