China Southern Airlines has set up a branch company in the southwestern Chinese province Yunnan, a stronghold of rival China Eastern Airlines.

Eight new China Southern domestic routes from Yunnan will be opened in March and a service to Islamabad, Pakistan, from provincial capital Kunming will begin in June, the carrier said.

These moves by China Southern support a government policy to use Yunnan as a hub through which to connect with the economies of neighboring countries in South and Southeast Asia. 

The branch company was established in Kunming March 6, China Southern said. Branch companies are treated by authorities preferentially in the allocation of service rights and runway slots.

Yunnan is also growing strongly as a domestic market for air transportation, because of its tourism attractions.

The carrier has not said what aircraft it will assign to the branch.

In 2005, China Eastern acquired Yunnan Airlines, giving it a stronger presence in the region. It now operates under the name China Eastern Yunnan Airlines.

Bradley Perrett research by Ryan Wang