China’s reef islands to be party venue

Chinese couples will soon have a rare and patriotic choice for their wedding parties as Beijing moves to turn islands in the disputed South China Sea into tourist resorts.

Only Chinese citizens are permitted to travel to the increasingly militarised region and then only after a political background check.

The tourism drive underscores China’s wide-ranging campaign to cement its claim to almost the entire South China Sea. Several other nations contest those claims but China has forged ahead, constructing and militarising man-made islands. Tensions led the G7 nations to express concern, without naming China, when they met in Japan. The Pentagon has blamed Beijing for an aggressive fighter jet interception of a US plane over the South China Sea earlier this month.

To expand the fledgling tourist trade, which brought just 30,000 visitors since cruise trips were approved in 2013, the authorities will develop some islands and reefs in the Paracel archipelago for “a select number of tourists”, the mayor of China’s southernmost city told the state-run China Daily. On offer will be sea plane trips, fishing, diving, windsurfing and island weddings, said Xiao Jie, the mayor of the new city of Sansha.

Visitor checks will look for evidence of politically “subversive” speech.