Ocean Flower Island: What is China's answer to Dubai - and will it ever be finished?

The island paradise hit the headlines this week as construction giant Evergrande was told to pull down several dozen towers

It has been called China’s Dubai — a huge, glitzy island city devoted to leisure and pleasure.

Ocean Flower Island is said to be the world largest artificial island, at one and a half times the size of The Palm Jumeirah, but it is actually three separate islands linked by causeways.

The project opened in 2020 after 12 years of construction and cost $25 billion (Dh88 billion).

But it has had its fair share of controversies: the project was approved by Zhang Qi, a local politician later convicted of corruption. He was also accused of overruling environment protection laws to permit construction, causing lasting damage to coral reefs and oyster populations.

The developer is the troubled Evergrande Group, the Chinese property company now struggling to pay an estimated $300 billion in liabilities.

Although not explicitly linked, the company’s shares were briefly suspended from trading this week at the same time Evergrande was ordered to demolish 39 buildings on part of Ocean Flower.

The partially completed apartment blocks, covering 435,000 square metres, are said to have been given the go-ahead only after building permits were obtained illegally, with the company given 10 days to comply with a demolition order.

Evergrande said it would actively communicate with authorities to resolve the issue.

The developer added that the order has no impact on the rest of the development.

The dispute has cast a cloud over what would otherwise be a triumph of Chinese architecture and engineering.

Ocean Flower Island is located in Hainan, an island province that sits off the southern coast of China, about 2,000 kilometres from Beijing, with year-round tropical weather.

Shaped like a peony flower, the island complex covers about eight square kilometres, much of it earmarked for accommodation for up to 200,000 visitors.

The central area, known as Ocean Flower Island No 1, is designed as a self-contained holiday destination. Among the attractions are “Fairyland”, a fantasy-themed amusement park, and “Snow Mountain”, a water park

Futuristic buildings sit next to reproductions of historic cityscapes, with an opera house, convention centre, hot springs, a wedding manor, botanical gardens and a marine aquarium adding to the mix.

Duty-free shopping malls, 12 Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury hotels, including a Hilton, are designed to appeal to China’s growing middle class, with operators aiming to bring in 5.5 million visitors during the first year of operation, including 200,000 for the country's national day.

As the official English language video for the resort puts it: “China has done it again. There is no other entertainment venue on this planet that can top the Ocean Flower Island.”

For the present, though, Ocean Flower Island remains out of bounds to the rest of the world, its ambition to become an international tourist destination to equal or eclipse Dubai put on hold by China’s strict zero-Covid-19 policy.

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Updated: January 7th 2022, 4:11 AM