Cash for living on a scenic island: what's not to like?

August 12, 2014 12:21
Islands in the South China Sea are no doubt scenic but despite the cash sweetener on offer, life there can be harsh. Photo: Xinhua

Want to live an idyllic lifestyle on a scenic tropical island and get some allowance at the same time? Now there is a possibility: emigrate to an island in the vast South China Sea.

Mainland media reports say the municipal government of Sansha in Hainan province, which was founded in July 2012 to exercise jurisdiction over hundreds of islands and islets including Paracel (Xisha) Islands, Spratly (Nansha) Islands and Macclesfield (Zhongsha) Bank, last week gazetted the program to offer cash to local residents there.

Anyone who spends more than half a year on any of these islands will be awarded up to 80 yuan (US$13) per day. If you stay in Sansha for a year, you will get almost 30,000 yuan in total, or about US$5,000.

Government employees will enjoy a higher standard of living – up to 210 yuan a day plus daily commuting allowance of 300 yuan.

That can be a fat incentive as the average income for a peasant or fisherman in Hainan was merely 8,343 yuan last year, according to the provincial statistics bureau.

But there is a catch: most of these islands are in disputed waters.

Vietnam and other neighboring countries have long been in bitter wrangles with China over sovereignty and territorial issues.

Most of the islands lack basic recreational amenities and some do not have electricity. Heat, typhoons and poor transport can also be challenging.

The program is part of Beijing’s broader plan to assert influence in the region through non-military means.

According to international law, a country can exercise jurisdiction of a range of over 200 sea miles around an island if it is inhabited by its nationals.

This is on top of a new official version of a vertical map of China which puts equal emphasis on its land and maritime territories. It includes islands and waters in the South China Sea which are drawn to the same scale.

Xinhua also reports that owners of fishing vessels that operate in disputed waters, like areas surrounding Scarborough Shoal which Taiwan and the Philippines also claim, will receive more generous handouts such as free supply of water and food.

Newly built fishing vessels will be given a one-off subsidy of 1.5 million yuan. To qualify, it is said that you first need to have a Sansha hukou and pledge that you will join the auxiliary militia unconditionally in the event of a war or any military conflict. 

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Sansha is China's youngest prefecture-level city, founded two years ago amid tensions with neighboring countries over territorial disputes. Photo: Baidu

EJ Insight writer