HEIXIAZI ISLAND, Heilongjiang – Heixiazi Island, a border island linking China and Russia, opened as a resort destination for Chinese tourists on Wednesday as part of an experiment to see if that change will prove mutually beneficial to the tourism industries in both countries.
A group of about 150 Chinese tourists landed on the island at around 10:40 am on Wednesday. They crossed a floating bridge to arrive in Heixiazi, thereby culminating a four-day journey that had started on Monday in Harbin, capital of Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province.
Tourists can now visit the island’s wetland nature reserve, a former Russian military camp and the island monuments that mark China’s boundary with Russia, among other important sites. They can also climb aboard ships and take sightseeing tours of the Chinese waters around the island.
The tourism policy is the first in more than 80 years to allow Chinese visitors to approach the island, which had been occupied by Russia for decades.
Heixiazi, at the junction of Heilong River (called Amur in Russia) and the Wusuli River, was once the site of border disputes between China and Russia.
The current boundary was demarcated in 2008, when both sides agreed the western half of the 335-square km island should belong to China and the other half to Russia.
The two countries reached a consensus in November 2010 to work together to make the island an attractive place to eco-tourists.
“I would like to tell my grandchildren every detail about my journey to reach the country’s easternmost point,” said Liu Liping, 73, the oldest in the tour group and a retired teacher from Harbin.
“The bumpy journey to here has exhausted me but I’m refreshed by seeing untouched nature. It has made me feel that I’m in an earthly paradise.”
Luo Yanli, who is also from Harbin, said her journey to the island was rather rough. On the way she had to endure hot weather and insect stings.
“But I’m proud to stand on my country’s territory with the island returned to the motherland.”
China began building accommodations for tourists and mapping out travel routes on the island in 2009. Although the accommodations are not complete, some scenic spots have been made ready for visitors, according to the local tourism authority.
“We plan to turn the island into an international tourism destination in 10 years,” said Liu Xianfu, deputy head of the Heilongjiang tourism bureau. Liu said the island’s special geographic position, coupled with its history and unique culture, has a special charm for tourists.
Peng Jielin, deputy director of the development and reform commission of Heilongjiang province, said the opening of Heixiazi Island to tourism will help to make it a hub for cross-border ties between China and Russia in the future.
As planned, 75 percent of the island will be reserved for wetlands, and the rest will be turned into a commercial and tourist zone.
New railways and a bridge connecting the island to the mainland are still under construction, according to the two countries’ development plans.
Heixiazi Island is close to the Russian city of Khabarovsk, which lies just off the island’s northeast tip. Khabarovsk is one of the largest cities in Eastern Russia and is connected to both Vladivostok and Moscow by rail.