Monday, April 19, 2004

I Like the Island Life, Part II 

The BBC is reporting that Vietnam has begun sending tourist expeditions to the Spratly Islands, which China also claims (as do, actually, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Brunei and Taiwan):
Meeting soldiers, passing through an oil field and visiting a former prison might not be everyone's idea of the perfect holiday, but this inaugural trip to the Spratlys has attracted more than 60 Vietnamese tourists.

They set off early on Monday for an eight-day return trip and according to an official on board opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
It just goes to show: ruffling diplomatic feathers can be fun, especially when you're a "strategic tourist."

The Spratlys actually sound like a nice place to visit. There are about a hundred islets and reefs, with a total land area of under 5 square miles. Not much land, but no shortage of soldiers: over 2000 at last count, from 5 of the claimaint nations. China's reside upon the aptly named "Mischief Reef," which apparently was named after Heribert Mischief, a crewmember on board the ship that discovered the islands in 1791. I'm not making that up, by the way.

And those aren't the only countries that have ever hoped to call the Spratlys their own. According to this site. the Spratlys:
have been claimed at one time or another by the Philippines, Japan, France, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Republic of South Vietnam, the People's Republic of China, and the Republic of China...In addition there have been a number of private individuals who have asserted territorial rights (sometimes in conflict with each other) under the names of the Kingdom of Humanity, the Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads, the Principality of Freedomland, the Free Territiory (sic) of Freedomland, and the Republic of Koneuwe.
Why all the interest in these rocky outcroppings? What you'd guess, generally: oil (or the possibility of oil), fishing rights, and in the case of the Kingdom of Humanity, the apparently lucrative industry of processing gooney birds for the restaurants of Saigon and Manila. I'm not making this up, either, by the way.

If you're interested in going, the Vietnamese hope to send more tourist boats to the Spratlys in the near future. Also, the Taiwanese apparently have constructed a house on stilts on one of the islands, which also could be a nice place to visit, and which also has caused much consternation in diplomatic circles.

If you go, though, do be careful, warns globalsecurity.org:
Military skirmishes have occurred numerous times in the past two decades. The most serious occurred in 1976, when China invaded and captured the Paracel Islands from Vietnam, and in 1988, when Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed at Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands, sinking several Vietnamese boats and killing over 70 sailors.
Ah, the island life.

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