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The once-neglected southern isle of Hainan is China’s newest and biggest tourism hub, thanks to a €381bn revamp with new palatial hotels, airports, a highway and rail links. But could this be a front for covert military operations?

Delphine Lignières, Hainan, Haitang Bay, Mandarin Oriental, Sanya

On the newly built highway to Haitang Bay, on China’s southern island of Hainan, drivers are still getting used to the most basic rules of the road. Despite the large white arrows on the fresh asphalt, cars and tractors still often drive on the wrong side, making your scenic journey along the coast a fraught one.

Hainan is in the midst of a €381bn overhaul: Beijing’s attempt to turn a rural backwater into China’s Hawaii. Once completed, it will be the country’s largest special economic zone and China’s “International Tourism Destination”, as the…

Top of the shops

Until recently, Chinese shoppers faced a restricted list of products when shopping at the popular CDF duty-free store in Sanya: they could only buy locally made items, and none of the international brands on offer. Not that Made in Hainan products are anything to snigger at – everyone needs jackfruit curd or mango gummies once in a while. But now there has been a rule change that allows them to buy from the likes of Armani and Tiffany & Co. Apparently, the biggest sellers are Estée Lauder and Lancôme facial moisturisers, and Dior and Chanel perfumes.

Made in Hainan

Products from the island

  1. Ground coconut-milk coffee powder
  2. Fragrant and spicy yellow chilli sauce
  3. Betel nuts with a “haunting, elusive odour”
  4. Instant coconut powder
  5. Organic moringa-tree tea
  6. Honey and mango gummies
  7. Pearl eye cream
  8. Eye Gold eye-protection essence
  9. Seawater pearls from the state-controlled Museum of Pearls in Sanya

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