Chinese find story of 'islands for sale' too good to be true

China put more than 150 desert islands on the market, but eager buyers found more than they bargained for.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Lotus-eaters who thought they might be able to buy their own little patch of paradise off the coast of China are having to think again. Last month, the Chinese State Oceanic Administration announced that it was putting 176 desert islands on the market. Some are in the same tropical waters that lap Hainan, China’s biggest sun-sand-and-sea resort island. Others are in chillier, but still unspoiled climes.

The move sparked widespread interest, but as so often is in China, what you see is not exactly what you get. To start with, the islands are not for sale; they are available on a 50-year lease under still-to-be-determined policies. And not only will investors have to pay for fresh water and electricity, roads and docks, they must also follow strict government guidelines.

Some islands have been set aside for tourism development, others for commercial fisheries, officials say. Building a shack on the beach and hanging out in splendid solitude is not on the government’s list of approved purposes.

China has tens of thousands of islands off its coasts, and a few enterprising types have not bothered to wait for the government’s go-ahead.

By the end of last year, surveillance vessels had spotted and stopped about 30 freelance efforts to build a little place away from it all, the official China Daily reported recently.

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