Owning a private island is far from a dream for some

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Owning one's own private island is a fantasy for many people, poor and wealthy alike. For some people, it's even a realistic possibility. Is it a risky investment or a lucrative strategy?

For many of China's wealthy, owning a private island has become a reality as a result of China's April listing of 176 uninhabited islands available for lease and development.

However, there are still many obstacles for prospective island-buyers, such as naming, supporting and managing their new property.

"I called some well-informed friends to get more details as soon as I heard the news of the uninhabited island listing," says Qian Yunxiao, manager of a foreign trade company in the city of Wenzhou in east China's Zhejiang Province.

"It may provide a profitable opportunity for me," Qian says.

China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) released its first list of the country's uninhabited islands available for development by companies or individuals on April 12. A total of 176 islands in seven coastal provinces and one autonomous region are available for private development.

Along with surging enthusiasm from a group of potential investors, the development of China's uninhabited islands received a boost when the SOA issued applications for the utilization of these islands on April 20.

"Choosing the kind of business I want to run is what I am most concerned about now," Qian says. "A yacht club is my first choice, as it is exciting and attractive to a large number of potential consumers. There are plenty of businessmen in Wenzhou," he says.

Tourism, transportation, manufacturing, fishing, agriculture and forestry are some of the sectors that could be developed on these islands, according to the SOA.

"To spend tens of millions to rent an uninhabited island is no problem," Qian says. "The key is to find a proper business."

However, it might not be so easy to realize the dream of running one's own island. Zhu Renmin can attest to that - as the first owner of an uninhabited island in China, Zhu has experienced the hardship of being a developmental pioneer himself.

Zhu bought a small island near the city of Zhoushan in Zhejiang Province in 1996. Inheriting artistic talents from his grandfather Pan Tianshou, a noted contemporary painter, Zhu was determined to build an art museum on the island.

"I named my island 'Lotus Island' and designed an art museum on it with some sculptures," Zhu says.

Although Zhu's island is now a well-known area in Zhoushan, he still can't forget the hardships he experienced over the past 15 years.

"There was no potable water, no electricity, and no route leading to the island," Zhu recalls. "I sacrificed a lot to explore the deserted island. I nearly lost my life when I was hit by a typhoon on my way to the island."

Some people with island-exploring experience have also been frustrated by the seemingly attractive opportunities.

Zhou Dewen, who has invested in tourism on a well-equipped island in Wenzhou, found that developing the island was both costly and risky.

"With frequent typhoons in the summer and cold snaps in the winter, I can hardly earn any money," Zhou complains.

Xia Xiaoming, a researcher with the Second Institute of Oceanography of the SOA, says that large companies have more advantages in developing uninhabited islands.

"They are capable of providing sufficient capital and human resources," Xia says.

Ni Dingkang, deputy director of the Maritime Space Office of the Zhoushan Ocean and Fishery Bureau, says that clean water, electricity, and transportation are the three keys to successful island development.

"Investment in infrastructure is only the first step of the whole project. More capital is needed for further development," Ni says.

The results of an island census conducted by the SOA were released this past February. The results showed that the country has more than 10,000 islands, with the number of uninhabited islands accounting for 95 percent of the total.

"This suggests that China's uninhabited island development has a lot of potential," Xia says. "If the first group of developed islands are profitable, more and more uninhabited islands will be developed in the future."

However, there are still even more problems that ambitious investors have to face, even after development is completed. Developed islands are like small societies. Security and safety issues can still emerge after development, according to Xia.

Uninhabited island development has also aroused public concerns about environmental protection.

"Any kind of development can bring in some direct or indirect influences," says Gu Zijiang, marine planning director at the Zhejiang provincial ocean and fishery bureau.

"It is not necessarily a perfect dream for these enthusiastic investors," Ni warns. "They should make a solid blueprint before investing in these islands."

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