China says it is opening up a disputed island chain with just one hotel to tourism in another step in its battle to demonstrate that the potentially oil-rich territory is Chinese.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday that people will be allowed to go on cruise tours to the islands known as Xisha in China and Paracel elsewhere by next month.

Vietnam also claims the islets, sandbanks and reefs southeast of China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea. A Hainan provincial government official who gave only his surname, Zhong, confirmed Tan’s remarks at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference and that local authorities plan to open the islands to tourists before the May Day holiday on May 1. “Detailed information, such as the tourist capacity and travel itinerary, is still not available,” Zhong said.

There is one hotel with 56 rooms on Xisha’s largest island, Yongxing, which is 2.13 square kilometers and has no fresh water, said Xinhua. It quoted ship owner Haihang Group Corp. Ltd. as saying a cruise ship that can accommodate 1,965 passengers is ready for sailing, while a second company is building another one.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and its island groups, while Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries claim some areas. The disputes occasionally erupt into open confrontation. The islands amid some of the world’s busiest commercial sea lanes, along with rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas deposits.AP