Hainan allows development of uninhabited islets amid efforts to build free trade port

Hainan is often referred to as China's Hawaii for its beautiful beaches. Photo: AFP

The southern Chinese province of Hainan has released a document allowing entities and individuals to apply for the use of unpopulated islets for entertainment, tourism and construction purposes, which analysts say could help the island province become an international tourism and consumption center.

According to the document, which was issued by the Hainan Provincial Oceanic and Fishery Department, the time limits for developing the uninhabited islets vary with different uses. The longest time frame is set at 50 years if the islets are used for port and shipbuilding projects, followed by 40 years for public welfare projects. For salt and mineral industry projects, the islets can be used for 30 years, for tourism and amusement projects 25 years and aquacultural projects 15 years.

Applicants must take into consideration their projects' impact on the natural resources, ecological system, endangered species, natural attractions and historical sites of the uninhabited islets before submitting the application for the use, according to the document.

The document stresses that the right of development will be revoked if the applicants fail to meet the national requirements for the construction of the marine ecological civilization, which prioritizes low carbon, green development and energy efficiency.

Currently, there are more than 30 uninhabited islets sitting off the coast of Hainan that can be developed, said the Hainan Provincial Oceanic and Fishery Department.

The document comes three months after Hainan was identified as the location of China's first free trade port, which is normally superior to a free trade zone as a new type of economic zone featuring a higher degree of openness in market access, trade and investment.

The document advocating for the development of uninhabited islets will be helpful in realizing Hainan's goal of becoming a global tourism and consumption center and reflects the national support for building Hainan into a free trade port, said Yang Yanfeng, a deputy researcher at the Tourism College of Beijing Union University.

"Developing the uninhabited islets could, to a large extent, be used as a supplement to Hainan's tourism products, amid challenges from island countries in Southeast Asia," said Yang.

Over the recent years, Hainan has emerged as one of the world's most popular tourism destinations due to its gorgeous landscapes and duty-free shopping. In April, China said that it was drafting a proposal to support horse racing and sports lottery in Hainan, a move that some people think could eventually lead to the legalization of the gaming industry in the country.

Yan Yuejin, director of the E-house China Research and Development Institution, said that the wider access to the sectors on the uninhabited islets including tourism, entertainment and infrastructure could give a boost to Hainan's efforts to become an island boasting a wide range of industries, which matches with the national plan of building Hainan as the country’s first free trade port.

But Yan warned of the possibility of some applicants misusing the project for land speculation and illegal land reclamation.

Besides, the document could also trigger foreign suspicions over China's intentions, as Beijing still has territorial disputes with several countries in the South China Sea. Earlier this year, the South China Morning Post quoted Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, as saying that Beijing had unilaterally built seven military bases in the South China Sea in an attempt to "assert de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features by further militarizing its man-made bases".

However, the Hainan document is a result of China's long-term push for the better utilization of islands.

China's push for the development of uninhabited islands dates back to 2003, when the country's State Oceanic Administration and other related government agencies jointly published a management regulation on the protection and utilization of uninhabited islands, which allowed institutions and individuals to use the unpopulated islands for up to 50 years. But the regulation was cancelled in 2007 by some coastal provinces due to fears over potential ecological destruction.

In 2011, the State Oceanic Administration ramped up its effort by announcing a list including the first batch of 176 uninhabited islands that can be exploited in the country's eight coastal provinces including Hainan, in accordance with the island protection law, which took effect in 2010 and added the exploitation of islands to the national economic and social development plans.
 


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