China is in the spotlight around the world because it was the site of the emergence of the new coronavirus. This is not, however, the only relevant international issue that concerns the Asian country today.
In the Pacific Ocean there are a number of small islands which have put the Chinese government in the midst of controversy. This is the archipelago called, internationally, the Paracel Islands, which presents a beauty reminiscent of the Maldives, with white sand beaches bathed by a turquoise sea.
The archipelago is roughly the same distance from Vietnam and the main land parts of China – and both countries say they have the right to dominate these patches of land, which have almost no indigenous population.
Tension in air
In 1974, the two nations faced a military conflict in the island region: China emerged victorious and established control over all of the Paracel Islands (which in Mandarin is called Xisha).
Almost five decades after the shock, the right to sovereignty over the archipelago is still a subject that generates friction.
In the streets of Hanoi, for example, there have already been huge popular demonstrations calling for the integration of the islands into Vietnam.
In April 2020, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel sank a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracel Islands.
And the Chinese are strengthening their domination over this territory with the establishment, on the spot, of an urban, military and tourist structure.
In recent years, cruises have arrived in the Paracel Islands, bringing legions of Chinese tourists to know the beauty of the destination.
On tours, visitors explore crystal-clear beaches, take boat trips, and admire rich wildlife, with a large presence of turtles and seabirds. Snorkelling sessions can also be part of the menu.
Additionally, travelers hear reports from tour guides reaffirming that the disputed islands historically belong to China. And they often take photos in front of the red flags of the Asian country which float on the clear sands and turquoise sea of the region.
Along with scenes of natural beauty and patriotism, the archipelago can offer a climate of tranquility little felt in other parts of Chinese territory: with a population still small, its atmosphere of seclusion and little frenzy contrasts (and a lot). with the great crowded beaches of China.
Part of a greater tension
The Paracel Islands, in fact, are part of a scenario of global tensions.
They are located in an area of the Pacific Ocean known as the South China Sea, where some of the world’s most important trade sea routes, major fishing grounds, and in which the existence of vast oil and gas reserves are located. is estimated.
There, any nation would love to have territories of their own – and the place is the subject of territorial disputes that also involve governments in countries like the Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei. In addition to the United States.
The Chinese government has in recent years built man-made islands in the South China Sea – and these man-made patches of land and some of the Paracel Islands are being fitted out with military bases.
The United States, for its part, claims that China’s growing dominance over the region could harm its trade and military navigation in the region, in a type of complaint that has generated risky disagreements between Washington DC and Beijing.
During the last month of January, for example, an aircraft carrier from the United States sailed through the South China Sea, in an exercise to promote “freedom of navigation” in the region.
Soon after, China ordered military aircraft flights over this part of the Pacific. Nothing serious happened, but one thing is certain: the entertainment environment of the Paracels Islands is by no means compatible with armed conflicts (especially those involving the two greatest military powers in the world).