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Vietnam island economies, national defense to get $8.6 bln boost

Vietnam will invest around US$8.6 billion in island infrastructure to boost national defense and economic development on its remote ocean outposts.

Nearly 60 percent of the program's total cost VND162.5 trillion ($8.6 billion) will be paid by the government with the rest sourced from the private sector and foreign official development assistance, according to a government decision released recently.

The first stage will be carried out from 2010 to 2015 at a cost of VND51.8 trillion ($2.74 billion), said the decision, which aims to build major sea-related economies on the islands and connect them with both inland and foreign centers of trade and commerce.

The decision also implies that improved infrastructure and development on the islands will go hand in hand with stronger national defense facilities.

"Island economic development will be tightly connected with improving national defense and security," the document said.

The program targets an annual economic growth on Vietnam's islands of 14-15 percent, increasing the island economies' share of the country's total economic growth from the current 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent by 2020.

Major ports will be constructed for ships of around 1,000 tons on many islands while the ports on Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands will be expanded.

Con Dao Island's Con Son Airport will be upgraded and the construction of Duong To International Airport on Phu Quoc Island will be expedited to welcome an estimated three million travelers a year. Airports will also be constructed on other islands that could help boost the tourism industry.

More roads will be constructed on major islands, all of which are expected to have "complete" road systems by 2020.

Electricity generation will be another major investment on the islands, including alternative sources like wind, solar, tidal and bio-fuel energy. Groundwater research will be conducted to better manage the source while projects to transform sea water into freshwater will also be implemented.

Information infrastructure will be improved on inhabited islands to ensure the best possible communication in all weather conditions.

The program also aims to increase off-shore fishing and fish farming, to be carried out in programs that both protect and recreate the resources. The aim is to increase the industries to pull in a total of between 300,000 tons and 350,000 tons by 2020, of which 280,000-300,000 tons would be from fishing.

The government and private enterprises will also invest in heavy-capacity fishing ships to increase catch sizes and also to protect the country's sovereignty at sea.

Phu Quoc and Van Don islands will be developed into major ecotourism destinations of "regional and international scale," said the decision. Under the program, the country's islands are expected to attract between 2.7 million and 2.8 million tourists per year, including 700,000-850,000 international tourists, with a 12.5 percent annual growth rate through 2020.

The program also aims to develop sea rescue services and better education and healthcare on the islands.

Military facilities will also be established and/or strengthened on Bach Long Vy, Co To, Cat Ba, Con Co, Ly Son, Phu Quy, Con Dao, Phu Quoc and Tho Chu islands, and the Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago.