More civil servants than actual tourists climbed aboard the first Chinese cruise ship to visit disputed South China Sea islands on Sunday.
Only 100 of 240 passengers were regular citizens, the Shanghai Morning Post reported on Monday. The rest were civil servants from various government organs in Hainan province. The debut cruise went to the Paracel Islands' Sansha, the newly established prefecture-level city created last year to consolidate China's de facto control.
As many as 100 tourists paid between 7,000 yuan (HK$8,800) and 9,000 yuan for the four-day voyage, but stayed in second-class cabins or lower. Officials and civil servants, however, were free to choose more luxurious cabins and pay less, the report said.
A price chart obtained by the newspaper also showed that tourists were charged an extra 3,250 yuan per person than civil servants in similar cabins.
But the newspaper said the tourists were not bothered by the unequal treatment. A Hunan passenger surnamed Ma said it was worth the money to experience the “original beauty” of Sansha.
Everyone was subjected to the same high security checks during boarding, however. Passengers went through security checks twice, taking two hours for the whole process, the newspaper said.
Plans to allow tourists to visit the Paracel Islands is the latest stage in China’s development of the territory, which has previously angered Vietnam and caused concern in Washington.
Vietnam and China have a longstanding territorial row over the Paracel Islands. Hanoi last month accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats which had sailed in disputed waters in the area.
Officials earlier this month confirmed they would open up the islands to tourism.
China has occupied the Paracels since a brief war with South Vietnam in 1974. It is a cluster of about 40 islets, sandbanks and reefs.
Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia all have rival claims to parts of the South China Sea, while the United States is also watching Beijing’s increased assertiveness.
In his address opening China’s parliament last month, former Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing should “develop the marine economy... and safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests”.