China’s Island Building in the South China Sea: Damage to the Marine Environment, Implications, and International Law

Date: 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

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Summary: 

From December 2013 to October 2015, China built artificial islands with a total area of close to 3,000 acres on seven coral reefs it occupies in the Spratly Islands in the southern part of the South China Sea. Although dredging, land reclamation, and the building of artificial islands are not unique to China, the scale and speed of China’s activities, the biodiversity of the area, and the significance of the Spratly Islands to the ecology of the region make China’s actions of particular concern. In addition to damage to the reefs, China’s island building activities have negatively impacted fisheries in the immediate area of the reclamation sites, and could negatively impact the health of fisheries in the coastal areas of the South China Sea. The building of these artificial islands will almost certainly lead to increased Chinese fishing in the surrounding waters, which could raise the risk of a clash between Chinese fishing boats and those of other claimant countries. Moreover, China’s island building activities may have violated some of its environmental commitments under international law; the ongoing case initiated by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague regarding China’s claims and activities in the South China Sea is considering this possibility.

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