*Neptune’s Horses-Walter T. Crane (1892)

Since 2014, China has been building islands in the middle of the South China Sea. What were once underwater reefs are now sandy islands complete with airfields, roads, buildings, and missile systems. In less than two years, China has turned seven reefs into seven military bases in the South China Sea, one of the most contentious bodies of water in the world. The South China Sea is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. A 2015 US Department of Defence report found an estimated $5.3 trillion (£4 million) worth of goods are shuttled through the region every year. Under international law, a large part of the South China Sea comes under Vietnamese sovereignty. However, Beijing disagrees and says that the entire waterway up to the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan belongs to China – a claim rejected by an international court of arbitration in 2016.

The sea is one of the most important areas of ocean in the world. It’s estimated to hold 11 billion barrels of oil, 109 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 10 percent of the world’s fisheries. Most importantly, 30 percent of the world’s shipping trade flows through the South China Sea to the busy ports of Southeast Asia. It’s an incredibly important strategic area, and five countries currently claim some part of it.

The above satellite photographs showing China’s rapid building this year of installations in the sea that could have military uses. These include an airstrip that could, when finished, reach a length of 3km (nearly 2 miles) on Fiery Cross Reef. Those construction have caused widespread alarm among the other claimants, which include Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as the Philippines, an American ally. On April 28th leaders of the ten-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued an unusually strong statement. They called the island-building effort, much of it near the Philippines, a potential threat to “peace, security and stability”. The reef is now three times bigger than the largest natural island in the Spratly archipelago.

Economic Exclusive Zone and UNCLOS

Most countries base their claims off the United Nations Law of the Seas, which says a country’s territory extends 200 miles off its shores, an area called the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is a sea zone prescribed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. According to Article 76 UNCLOS, coastal states can – under certain geological conditions – extend their juridical Continental Shelf and thus gain marine sovereignty rights beyond the 200-nautical-mile limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Submissions for an extended Continental Shelf need to be filed directly with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and must contain detailed marine geoscientific data describing e. g. the shape of the continental margin, the location of the foot of the continental slope and the sediment thickness. EEZ does not have to be confused with the territorial sea, which is a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state. The territorial sea is regarded as the sovereign territory of the state, although foreign ships (military and civilian) are allowed innocent passage through it, or transit passage for straits; this sovereignty also extends to the airspace over and seabed below. Adjustment of these boundaries is called, in international law, maritime delimitation. Therefore, differently from the territorial sea, a costal state cannot prohibit passage or loitering above, on, or under the surface of the sea that is in compliance with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention, within that portion of its exclusive economic zone (beyond its territorial sea). Still it is recognised to the state, in case of violations committed even inside its EEZ, the right to hot pursuit: the right of hot pursuit according to Article 111 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the right of a coastal state to extend enforcement to the high seas or even other states’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ) over foreign vessels committing crimes in waters under the national jurisdiction. Any trade or resources that fall in a country’s EEZ belong to that country, so every country in the South China Sea, which includes Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Vietnam, bases its claim to the South China Sea on the UN’s EEZ laws — except China.

The Nine-Dash Line

The Nine-Dash Line serves as a demarcation for what Beijing believes to be its waters. This has provoked drastic action from both Vietnam and China, who have deployed significant naval firepower to the area to disrupt and stop Malaysia’s energy exploration activities through intimidation. Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said in December: “For China to claim that the whole of South China Sea belongs to China, I think that is ridiculous”.

China argues it has a historical claim to the South China Sea, dating back to naval expeditions in the 15th century. After World War II, the Japanese Empire lost control of the South China Sea, and China took advantage of the moment to reclaim it. On maps, it started drawing a dashed line that encompassed most of the South China Sea. This line became its official claim and is known today as the Nine-Dash Line, because it always has nine dashes. In 1973, when the UN law established EEZs, China reaffirmed its Nine-Dash Line, refusing to clarify the line’s boundaries and rejecting other countries’ claims. The dispute has centred on the Spratly Islands, a very important archipelago at the heart of the South China Sea. Currently, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam claim some part of the Spratly Island chain. They’ve asserted their claims by putting small buildings, ports, and even some people on what are essentially rocks in the middle of the ocean. By turning these rocks into military bases, the Chinese are now able to support hundreds of ships, bolstering their presence in the region. They are using fishing boats, surveillance ships, and navy destroyers to set up blockades around other countries’ islands and defend their own. This is all done very cautiously and in small steps in order to avoid sparking a wider conflict.

Since China began building islands, the disputes have not become violent but tensions are building in the region, pushing other countries to build up their own islands.

U.S. intervention: USS Roosvelt forced to be withdrawn

China appears prepared, however, to accept the consequences, including the risk that America’s so-called “pivot” to Asia (now referred to as a “rebalancing”)—which has often been seen by America’s friends in the region as something of a fiction—will become more of a reality. The Philippines and America last year agreed on an “enhanced” defence co-operation pact (in recent days the two countries have been holding their biggest combined military exercise in 15 years). During Mr Abe’s trip to Washington, America signed a new defence agreement with Japan that would allow greater military co-operation between them. America has also been establishing closer military ties with its (and China’s) erstwhile enemy, Vietnam. Laying in the disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands, the move has come as the US has been forced to withdraw a navy vessel from the region amid the current coronavirus pandemic. Due to a coronavirus outbreak, the USS Roosevelt was forced to withdraw from the region while the air force ceased its 15-year presence over Guam. Although a US warship withdrew from the region, two further US warships have now entered the South China Sea. The Chinese Haiyang Dizhi 8 conducted a mission off the coast of Vietnam before the US intervened and demanded the ship leave the waters. The US State Department has stated China was taking advantage of the coronavirus’ pandemic. However, US officials confirmed they will continue to remain in the South China Sea to promote freedom of navigation.

US Indo-Pacific Command spokeswoman Nicole Schwegman said: “Through our continued operational presence in the South China Sea, we are working to promote freedom of navigation and overflight, and the international principles that underpin security and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific”. “The US supports the efforts of our allies and partners to determine their own economic interests”. In an effort to calm tensions, rear admiral Fred Kacher, commander of the USS America Expeditionary Strike Force said interactions between the two forces had been peaceful. He said: “All our interactions continue to be safe and professional with them”. This comes, however, as tensions between China and several states remain high over multiple island chains.

In a statement the US State Department said: “The United States is concerned by reports of China’s repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states. “In this instance, [China] should cease its bullying behaviour and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilising activity”.


  • Vox.com
  • TheEconomist.com
  • The Future of the Law of the Sea – Bridging Gaps Between National, Individual and Common Interests, Gemma Andreone (2017)
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  • ปั้มไลค์

    Like!! Great article post.Really thank you! Really Cool.

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