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The Chinese regime is planning to take tourists to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, according to official reports released on Wednesday by Chinese state media.
Reuters cited Deng Xiaogang, a deputy head of tourism for Hainan Island, a province close to the Paracel islands.
Deng said (quote): "The broad plan is being worked on, and a specific one is also being worked on, and we hope that within the year we'll be able to open maritime tourism to the Paracel Islands."
Known as the Xisha Islands in Chinese, the Paracels are a group of 40 small atolls.
Tourism plans to the disputed islands could add more fuel to the on-going maritime territorial conflicts between China and neighboring South East Asian countries.
Various foreign media organizations reported that the Deputy Director of China's National Tourism Administration, Wang Zhifa said, "The Xisha Islands tourism plan enables us to guard the frontier and stake our claims to these islands."
Yet on Thursday, a Chinese official from the Information Center of the National Tourism Administration denied any tourism plans to the Paracel Islands.
According to Reuters, the website of the People's Daily—the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece—cited Deng saying he had never spoken to the media.
Deng was reported saying he doesn't know anything about tourism in the Paracels. It also stated that Deng is no longer the deputy head of Hainan Provincial Tourism Development Committee.
The South China Sea is believed to have large oil and gas reserves. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei all have competing claims on sections of the sea—including the Paracel Islands. China stakes the largest claim.
Tensions between China and neighboring countries over the long-standing sea dispute have escalated in recent months.