China has become the fastest growing market for the cruise industry. The number of international guests visiting China on a cruise or as a starting point for a cruise has risen more than 60% in the last two years. The domestic market that international cruise lines are aiming to tap into has the potential to become the world’s largest market in just a few years. Recently, NCL joined the list of cruise lines that have stated they will position a ship in China for the international market and build one for the domestic China market. Cruises in China frequently sail the South China Sea and visit Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. World-wide cruises and re-positioning cruises sail to these ports as well.
The South China Sea has long been a disputed area with a number of countries including Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines countering China’s claim that they own it. China is claiming all the area within what they call “the nine dash line” as theirs based on a map from 1947. Some of the area claimed is thousands of miles away from China. While this issue has been around for a while it has become a hot issue lately. Over the last few years there has been an increase in the number of “foreign” fisherman illegally fishing in the territorials waters of another. Recently, China has been spreading its claim by building islands on what were small atolls. A military base is nearly complete with an airfield in the Spratly island group. The base was only a reef a year ago. The Spratly island group is claimed by China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
In an effort to booster their claims each government has taken steps to show that the area belongs to them. Surprisingly, tourism is one method that they are using. Political analysts have dubbed the term “conflict tourism”. One aspect of this tourism is cruises. In the last couple of weeks, there have been some announcements of “conflict cruises”. China launched a government owned cruise line to sail from the southern province of Hainan to the Paracel Islands in 2013. More than 10,000 Chinese have taken the cruise on the Coconut Princess visiting Sansha City. The island this city is on was violently taken by China from South Vietnam in 1975. Last week, they announced plans to add another cruise ship by the end of 2015. The announcement stated that it will be adding destinations in the Paracel Islands and hinted that it may require some infrastructure development. The Paracel’s are claimed by both China and Vietnam and a portion of the area is also claimed by Taiwan and the Philippines. Last year riots against Chinese in Vietnam broke out when China built an oil platform in this area.
This announcement follows the early June announcement that Vietnam with be offering a cruise that will visit two of the Spratly Islands as well as two reefs. A visit to an oil platform is also on the trip. The six night trip is priced at $800. The Vietnamese government is not hiding their purpose, clearly calling it a “sovereignty” cruise to show the world that the islands belong to them and to strengthen ties between the remote citizens and those of the main land. They stated plans to offer the cruise weekly if the pilot cruise is a success. They also intend to improve an airport and create a resort on one of the islands that they occupy. The islands this cruise will call on are near the new military base China is building.
The Philippines is also involved in the disputed area and has also declared they will send cruise ships to the Spratly Islands, however, they need to purchase a ship first. Vietnam and The Philippines have been putting some of their differences aside and are cooperating on a number of issues.
It’s hard to say what the impact, if any, these cruises will have on the world . However, it cannot be ruled out that the countries may be held for violating China’s territories. While there has been no hindrance to shipping in the sea-lanes, fisherman have been arrested for illegal fishing and even trespassing in the pass.