Warnings against China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea

06/03/2015


Much has been written and reported on China’s recent land reclamation and mass construction activities in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, which raise alarm about Chinese plans to alter the status quo in the South China Sea.
IHS Jane's has obtained satellite imagery that further illustrates the extent of China's building of new islands in the Spratly Islands. An IHS Jane’s report corroborated claims that China was embarking on an island-building project in the South China Sea. Based on satellite imagery, Jane’s reported that China was building an airstrip-capable island on Fiery Cross Reef, a group of three reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China claims the territory as part of Hainan province’s Sansha prefecture and exerts de facto control over the area. The reef’s central location in the broader South China Sea renders it a strategic position for an island-based airstrip.
On Woody Island, part of the Paracels group which is claimed by both Vietnam and Taiwan, China has long had an airstrip 2.7km (1.7 miles) long. Now, at Fiery Cross Reef, it appears to be building a 3km-long airstrip. At Hughes Reef, 75,000 square metres of sand have been reclaimed since last August to house a large new facility, according to estimates by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, a specialist journal. Further work is under way at Gaven, Cuarteron, Eldad and Mischief reefs.
In analyzing China’s intentions in its land reclamation, expansion and construction works on Fiery Cross Reef, Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Truong, President of the Center for Strategic Studies and International Relations Development shared the views that the Fiery Cross Reef helped China extend its military influences to the coastal Southeast Asian states”. An airbase in the Fiery Cross Reef enabled China’s bombers to extend their range. “In the past, Chinese aircrafts deployed from Hainan Island found it hard to operate in Spratly Islands. Now, they can even control their range above the Southeast Asia”, said Mr. Truong. This had threatened security and maritime safety in the South China Sea and challenged sovereignty, peace and stability in Southeast Asia.
According to Mr. Truong, Fiery Cross Reef was one of the five features where China built its military bases in Spratly Island in an attempt to showcase its determination to turn the rocks into structure of military outposts and strengthen its control over the entire South China Sea. These five features in Spratly Islands, when connecting to Paracel Islands, would create a hexagonal control of the entire South China Sea where most of the global sea routes run through.
China’s land reclamation operation in Spratly Island serves two purposes:
First, it will establish new air and naval bases which could be used as jumping - off points for China to expand further to the south. Once completed, these bases are large enough to hold powerful military forces. With these bases, China will also be able to overcome its existing weakness such as the mismatch between its ambition and military arrangement. They also provide basic improvement of logistic, supplies, air combat and naval operation. Eventually, China will have a significant control on air, at and under the sea.
Second, by turning submerged reefs into artificial islands, China is step - by - step bolstering its claim over the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones of coastal nations in the East Sea. In turning these areas from undisputed into disputed waters, China will pressure coastal nations into “joint development” with its given conditions. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying justified their illegal activities by stating that: “the work is mainly for the purpose of improving the living conditions of people stationed on these islands”. This eventually will be the same rationale China uses to argue that these artificial islands have all the sufficient conditions for inhabitants, having the same features as natural islands. Based on such argument, China will draw substantially new baseline, declare water territory and exclusive economic zone as prescribed in the 1982 UNCLOS. If that happens, China will create a new ground for its groundless “nine - dash line” claim, hence seizing the entire East Sea.
China believed that its land reclamation activities and building of artificial islands will help Beijing control sea routes in the South China Sea. China had asserted control, using satellite and unmanned aerial vehicle, almost all islands and reefs in the South China Sea located within a parameter of 150 km from China. However, China thought that the best way to monitor was to deploy military forces to these artificial islands and that was what it wanted to do.
Beijing continues to defend its right to create the islands although its logic is sometimes impenetrable. Responding to reporters' questions at a regular press briefing on 9 September, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: "We have answered this question many times before, and I suppose you must be fully aware of China's position. China asserts indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha [Spratly] Islands and the adjacent waters, and China's activities on relevant islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands fall entirely within China's sovereignty and are totally justifiable."
When asked what the purpose of the recent construction was, Hua said it was "mainly for the purpose of improving the working and living conditions of people stationed on these islands"
There is also the concern that the Chinese government may use these features as military facilities to enforce a potential Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The Chinese unilaterally declared an ADIZ off their East Coast but were unable to enforce their declaration as the US military immediately challenged it. CSIS expert Poling stresses that while the facilities at these artificial islands will allow China to exercise greater maritime patrol and aerial surveillance capabilities, they are unlikely to allow it to enforce any future ADIZ it announces.
Gregory Poling, an expert at the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea shall never acknowledge the artificial islands of China. But With China’s action, the Court would not be able to determine the original status of the subject that gave rise to territorial sea disputes. In response to the international radio Deutsche Welle (Germany), Mr. Gregory Poling suggested that the Philippines and Viet Nam should work together to conduct exploration activities in the South China Sea before China completes its scheme to build artificial islands.
Clearly, Beijing’s provocative action is changing the status quo in the East Sea by creating a new conjuncture in favor of China. In response to such aggressive activities, Vietnam should work with the Philippines, US and other ASEAN states to push forward the US “freeze” initiative and the Philippines’ “Triple Action Plan”. Vietnam should also urges other countries to express strong condemnation against Chinese unilateral activity that undermines international law./.
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All comments [ 10 ]


Lê Tín 6/3/15 22:28

Since the beginning of 2014, not only did China carry out large scaled reclamation in Fiery Cross Reef, it also expanded and built large structures on Johnson South Reef, Gaven Reef and Cuarteron Reef etc., in Spratly Islands.

Quốc Kiên 6/3/15 22:29

According to various analysts, the purpose of China building infrastructure on reefs and rocks in Spratly Islands was not only to gather intelligence information of its neighbors, but also to realize its so - called “nine - dashed line” claim enclosed the entire South China Sea.

Huy Quốc 6/3/15 22:31

China will pay for what they do!

Hùng Quân 6/3/15 22:32

International experts all agreed that China’s large scaled land reclamation and expansion of the features of Spratly Islands to build military bases imposed far more risk than its illegal deployment of the oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 in Vietnamese waters.

Phạm Hiếu 6/3/15 22:34

It is an urgent need for the international community to show stronger voice opposing Chinese aggressiveness and expansionism.

Quân Hoàng 6/3/15 22:36

In theory, at least, the artificial island then can be cited to advance its legal claims not only to a 12-mile territorial sea but also to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone as well.

Quốc Cường 6/3/15 22:37

There is a sad reality that with the benefit of modern technology, China is able to transform nature.

Hoàng Lân 6/3/15 22:44

On one hand, China is discussing peace in the South China Sea with its Southeast Asian neighbors, but on the other, it is trying to change the status quo there through unilateral actions.

Huy Lâm 6/3/15 22:45

Beijing needs to realize this inconsistency will result only in aggravating tensions and distrust between the two sides.

Vân Nhàn 6/3/15 22:47

China should allow its neighbours sufficient breathing space. After all, as the Chinese people know, it is important to have your neighbours as your friends.

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