Taiwanese developer lays claim to island off Guangdong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 May, 2005, 12:00am

A Taiwanese businessman has leased a tiny, barren island off Guangdong, turning it into a water sport resort that opened for business over the week-long Labour Day holiday, drawing 15,000 tourists.

Chen Ming-ze leased the 1.9 sq km Da Fangji Island from Dianbai county in Maoming in July and plans to invest a total of 300 million yuan, resort sales executive Zhang Wangting said.

The resort currently serves day trippers who are ferried across the 8.6 nautical mile channel from Bohe harbour.

Da Fangji is the first island in Guangdong to be entirely leased to a private developer on a trial basis since the Administrative Regulation on the Protection and Use of Uninhabited Islands came into force in 2003.

'We are offering water sports like diving and paragliding,' said Ms Zhang, adding that there were also plans to build a hotel on the previously uninhabited island.

Other cities including Zhuhai and Huizhou are also looking into plans to lease their islands.

The island was on a list of investment projects that the Maoming government brought to an investment fair in Hong Kong last March. It caught the eye of Mr Chen, who already has a water sports venture in Hainan .

Sources said that Maoming China International Travel Service had earlier pumped 2 to 3 million yuan into developing the island but had pulled out of the project after coming up against bureaucratic complications.

The hilly island has no beaches, although swimming is possible. It is so small that the May 1 holiday crush led to fights between people trying to get into the 300-seat restaurant.

Shenzhen University law professor Zou Pingxue said the mainland was trying to pre-empt ownership conflicts - like the one it has with Japan over the Diaoyu islands - by using the private sector to stake its claim on other uninhabited islands.

There were more than 6,000 such islands and the mainland was belatedly becoming aware of their value in extending its Exclusive Economic Zone, said Professor Zou.

'We had ignored their economic and defence significance, but with economic development, we are more aware of their value,' he said.

He also pointed out that neighbouring countries such as Japan and South Korea were already using the private sector to protect their offshore islands.