Most articles containing the words ‘China’ and ‘islands’ tend to be about territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But this week we report on more tranquil islands. In this case, they are located near Guangxi, the southern province bordering northern Vietnam.
Guangxi has 646 islands formed of sand, rock and coral, although only a handful are home to permanent residents. Some of the remainder are up for sale, with the local government trying to tempt buyers. All the islands sit firmly within China’s territorial waters – most are a few hundred metres off the coast; the most distant is about 50 kilometres away – which is probably why the authorities are relaxed about putting them on offer.
The islands are classified into six grades, says the Nangou Morning Post, a local newspaper. The most expensive are from reclaimed land, while the cheapest are being used for forestry. Proximity to the coast counts towards the price. A grade-four island near the shore will cost Rmb100,000 ($16,071) per hectare. More distant hideaways are priced at just Rmb14 for the same unit of land.
When the Guangxi government auctioned off its first batch three years ago, most of the interest came from small-scale boat operators wanting anchorages and port facilities. There was talk of attracting tourists but nobody tried to develop any of the islands for visitors. Now the authorities are trying again, talking up the prospects for solitude and fishing. But getting the islands to pay their way will be challenging. Unlike some of the disputed islands in the South China Sea – where buildings, harbours and even runways are going up with gusto – little construction is allowed on Guangxi’s archipelago. That looks like inhibiting their tourist potential. None of the uninhabited islands offers any shelter or fresh water, the Nanguo Morning Post reports.
China first allowed ‘private islands’ in the 1990s, says Tencent News, although most were dedicated to fish farming and forestry rather than recreational use. According to Lin Dong, the head of an island ownership association, very few proprietors have made any money, even the yacht clubs in wealthier provinces like Guangdong and Zhejiang that tried to turn them into offshore marinas. The clubs see them more as gimmicks for their brands, Lin says, and try to make back the costs through profits from other projects.
Prospective bidders in Guangxi are also being warned that it isn’t just their bank balances at threat. Many of the islands are vulnerable to the natural environment, especially sandbars that could disappear with changes to the tide. They all risk meteorological maulings during typhoon season too.
After all the confrontational bluster over the disputed territory in the South China Sea, it’s a timely reminder that Mother Nature can wreak the greatest havoc of all.
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