According to Shanghai-based online news service Eastday, the switch change came because of increasingly tense relations between China and the Philippines that blew up on April 10, “when a Philippine warship harassed 12 Chinese fishing vessels that had sailed near Huangyan Island to seek shelter from a storm”.
Huangyan Island – in fact a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a lagoon in the South China Sea – is claimed by both countries. Vietnam, too, in the past has laid claim to the shoal.
The Philippines call it Panatag Shaol but it is more widely known as Scarborough Reef, after a tea clipper of that name wrecked there in 1784. It is about 200 km from the Philippines and about 900 from Hainan Island, the closest point in China.
Eastday quoted Yu Weihua, general manager of the Shanghai China International Travel Service Co Ltd, as saying, “Short island routes with a relatively low price have soaked up the majority of local tourists [originally] bound for the Philippines because they boast similar attractions.”
The agency reported an increase of 20 per cent or more in the number of visitors it was sending to Bali and Phuket compared with last year.
Shanghai China CYTS Outbound Travel Service, too, has seen a 10 per cent increase in tourists to Bali, Phuket and Cheju. “Those who decided not to visit the Philippines contribute to the increase,” Liu Xin, its deputy general manager, told Eastday.
Eastday said that in 2011, the Philippines was a top-10 destination for tourists from Shanghai, with more than 38,000 holidaymakers heading mostly for Boracay, Cebu and Bohol.
For photographs and more on the debate over Huangyan/Panatag, see here.