Critically Analyse the Security Impact of China’s Artificial Islands

The Security Impact of China’s Artificial Islands in the South China Sea

Introduction

China constructed artificial islands from 2013 December to October 2015 that occupies three thousand acres on seven coral reefs. China is used to building artificial islands and reclamation as well as dredging lands, but the islands in the South China Sea are of great concern because of the speed that they were built in and the biodiversity of the area. The islands damaged the reefs and affected the fisheries in the area and have a health risk to the fisheries.

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The buildings also violate the environmental commitments under the international law. Some ships that belong to the Chinese are said to be dredging new harbors, and some erected cranes suggest that China is attempting to build more islands on submerged reefs. Some evidence suggests that China is also building airstrips in the area which could create environmental problems. The islands have military, political, and economic implications in the area that could also result in negative consequences in the future. This paper is going to look at the security impacts of the artificial islands in the South China.

Political Implications

The activities of China violated the environmental commitments under the international law. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requires nations to protect and preserve the marine environment. China has violated this rule because the artificial islands have caused harm to the aquatic species[footnoteRef:1]. The law also states that nations have a responsibility of taking the necessary action to protect and preserve fragile and rare ecosystems.

The depleted habitats and endangered species as well as threatened and other marine lives should be protected[footnoteRef:2]. Countries are required to recognize scientific techniques to observe, evaluate, measure, and analyze the effects of pollution to the marine life. The acquired results should be published to international organizations as a way of ensuring that the whole world collaborates in taking care of the marine environment. As a result, all nations have a duty of making sure that their activities are within the UNCLOS jurisdictions and their actions do not damage the environment.

These activities have adverse political impacts on China and other countries because they create political enmity. [1: Short, Michael, et al. Strategic environmental assessment and land use planning: an international evaluation. Routledge, 2013.] [2: Singh, Swaran, and Lilian Yamamoto. “China’s artificial islands in the south China sea: geopolitics versus rule of law.” Revista de Direito Econômico e Socioambiental 8.1 (2017): 4-23.]

The artificial islands increase political tension between China and the neighboring countries. This is because China aims at increasing the legitimacy claims of the territory and reduce the ability of other countries to expand their territories. The Chinese government through the director general of the Department of Boundary and Ocean affairs stated that the country had ensured that ecological and fishery preservation was taken into consideration before embarking on the mission.

Nevertheless, the government did not publish any relevant information about the assessment they conducted on the environmental impact of building the artificial islands[footnoteRef:3]. The information is vital to ascertain the claims. [3: Dupuy, Florian, and Pierre-Marie Dupuy. “A legal analysis of China’s historic rights claim in the South China Sea.” American Journal of International Law 107.1 (2013): 124-141.]

Despite the fact that the State Oceanic Administration in China said that the building occurred in areas with low coral reefs or dead coral, the information does not guarantee that marine life was not affected by the activities[footnoteRef:4]. This is because coral can grow in low coral cover or even dead coral which means that the artificial islands prevent these actions from taking place. The dead and low coral covers are essential in the marine environment since their structures are a substrate for other aquatic organisms.

The lack of aquatic preservation has negative political impacts on China because international bodies are concerned with preservation of the environment and as a result will cause political problems to China. [4: Yahuda, Michael. “China’s new assertiveness in the South China Sea.” Journal of Contemporary China 22.81 (2013): 446-459.]

The Philippines initiated a case in the Hauge regarding the activities and claims of the Chinese government. The suit claims that China violates its duty of protecting and preserving the marine environment under UNCLOS. The reclamation of land in China cause environmental degradation that illustrates the troubling attitude in Beijing, and they are willing to flout international law[footnoteRef:5]. The country is ready to militarize the contested area in favor of unilateral actions to consolidate a position that is more powerful.

The food security is already a threat due to the overfishing in the area which enhances the dispute. The approach counters the interests of the United States because they advocate for peaceful ways of resolving conflicts according to the law. The United States refrains from any actions that may enhance tensions and at the same time maintaining a productive and healthy marine environment. [5: Fels, Enrico, and T. Vu. Power Politics in Asia’s Contested Waters. Springer, 2016.]

Military implications

The activities pose a dangerous and contingency clash from the military in the United States within China because they will provoke an armed response from the Chinese. Although the UNCLOS does not negate the right of military forces to conduct military activities in EEZs,[footnoteRef:6] without the consent or the notice of the coastal state, the Chinese government insists that any reconnaissance activities that may be performed without prior notice are a violation of the domestic law in China as well as international law. [6: Beckman, Robert. “The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the maritime disputes in the South China Sea.” American Journal of International Law 107.1 (2013): 142-163.]

The Chinese vessels could trigger a maritime incident, which could harass the navy of the United States which includes the surveillance ship in the EEZ. The Chinese submarine has grown so much that it poses a danger like what happened in 2009[footnoteRef:7]. The destroyer’s towed sonar array collided with the Chinese submarine. The reconnaissance aircraft and the ocean surveillance vessels are not armed which means that the United States may dispatch armed escorts to respond to the Chinese planes.

This can lead to misunderstandings, which could lead to fire exchange increasing the military escalation which can create a political crisis. The crisis cannot be managed quickly because of the intensifying bilateral competition and lack of mistrust in the two countries. [7: Bader, Jeffrey, Kenneth Lieberthal, and Michael McDevitt. Keeping the South China Sea in Perspective. Brookings, 2014.]

The conflict between China and the Philippines could draw the attraction of the United States since it created a treaty of mutual defense with the country in 1951. The agreement requires the two states to support one another stating that armed attacks in the Pacific area are dangerous for the two countries on either of the party regarding safety and peace[footnoteRef:8]. As a result, the two countries are supposed to meet the dangers according to the constitutional processes.

This would increase the dispute and China would create more enemies across the globe. [8: Han, Xiqiu, et al. “Past methane release events and environmental conditions at the upper continental slope of the South China Sea: constraints by seep carbonates.” International Journal of Earth Sciences 103.7 (2014): 1873-1887.]

The artificial island in China could generate a conflict between China and the Philippines in the future. This could result from the natural gas deposits in the Reed Bank because it is already an area of dispute. The Chinese vessels have continuously harassed the oil survey ships, and the artificial islands could enhance the problem[footnoteRef:9].

Also, a forum energy in the United Kingdom has plans of starting to drill gas in the area, and the action could aggravate an aggressive behavior from the Chinese government. [9: Cordesman, Anthony H., and Steven Colley. Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2015: A Comparative Analysis. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.]

Economic Implications

The area where the Islands have built is a marine area with biodiversity where 571 specials of coral reefs are found. The Artificial Islands hold 333 species while the Caribbean has 65 species. According to research, young fish born in Artificial Islands are carried by currents to the South China Sea coastal areas. As a result, the coral reefs of the Artificial Islands may lead to a depletion of fish stocks in the coastal regions[footnoteRef:10].

Even before the Artificial Islands were built, the coral reefs in the South China Sea were under stress because coral had been lost through bleaching, poor fishing methods, and diseases. [10: Singh, Swaran, and Lilian Yamamoto. “China’s artificial islands in the south China sea: geopolitics versus rule of law.” Revista de Direito Econômico e Socioambiental 8.1 (2017): 4-23.]

The rising sea levels and ocean acidification pose a significant danger to all reefs across the globe. The islands have an adverse economic implication because other countries do not have an opportunity to expand their territory. The economy of the other countries will be affected since the fishing areas are reduced. The buildings of the Islands resulted in many coral reefs being buried under the sea because the dredging deposited sand and gravel on about five square miles of sea.

More than 400 coral species were found in the area where the artificial islands were built. Hence, a large number of coral species are likely to have been affected by the construction of the artificial islands. The process is destructive to coral reefs that lie beneath and as a result, causes negative impacts on the environment[footnoteRef:11]. The land reclamation activities on the coral reefs contribute to the destruction of coral reefs in the area.

These activities include creating access channels for ships and dredging harbors. These events cause damage to the marine environment, and as a result, affect the economy of the people in the area. [11: Liu, Yunling, et al. “Distal mud deposits associated with the Pearl River over the northwestern continental shelf of the South China Sea.” Marine Geology 347 (2014): 43-57.]

The land reclamation in the Artificial Islands has an adverse effect on the fisheries in the area, especially Brunei Darussalam. According to scientists, the sands and the silt plumes that are created through dredging gravel and sand as well as the deposit that settled on the coral reefs expelled the fish or killed them[footnoteRef:12]. Half a dozen of clam species were located in the area and the construction may have affected these species.

The reefs give the small fish protection against the big creatures in the sea meaning that the expulsion was a risk since it exposed them to their predators. The reduction of reefs reduces the stock of fish in the area and as a result affects the economy of the country because most of the populations depend on fishery.

A wide range of larger fish like wrasses and groupers were also expelled from the area because most of the reefs that are suitable for hiding ended up being covered by the Island. [12: Yahuda, Michael. “China’s new assertiveness in the South China Sea.” Journal of Contemporary China 22.81 (2013): 446-459.]

The area that is covered by the seven island features is approximately three thousand acres, and it adversely affects the fisheries in the area. The coral reefs of the Artificial Islands are a replenishment of stocks of depleted fish in the coastal regions of South China Sea. According to Marin science studies, the offspring of fish that spawn are carried in the reefs by currents[footnoteRef:13]. As a result, a second generation can migrate to the southern mainland of China.

This shows that the fish stock in the area is affected by the construction of the Islands. The coastal populations of Southern Asia depend on fish as a source of food, and there is a problem of overfishing in the area. With the damage to the spawning sea, the problem may increase because the pressure on the fisheries will increase. The artificial islands will increase the fishing in the area because of the expanded fishing areas[footnoteRef:14]. The Ministry of foreign affairs in China said that the islands would increase the production and fishery services in the area where the Reform Commission said that fishing boats would be provided as well as their shelters and replenishment services.

Hence, the fishing activities in the area will increase, which will increase the risk of clash between Chinese fishing boats and the other claimant countries. The risk could further be exacerbated by the Chinese practice of protecting fishing boats with the coast guard vessels[footnoteRef:15]. This is because the port facilities at the artificial islands allow the ships to dock and replenish supplies, which increases the ability to operate in the area. [13: Gao, Zhiguo, and Bing Bing Jia.

“The nine-dash line in the South China Sea: History, status, and implications.” American Journal of International Law 107.1 (2013): 98-123.] [14: Amer, Ramses. “China, Vietnam, and the South China Sea: disputes and dispute management.” Ocean Development & International Law 45.1 (2014): 17-40.] [15: Bader, Jeffrey, Kenneth Lieberthal, and Michael McDevitt. Keeping the South China Sea in Perspective. Brookings, 2014.]

Future Outlook from the Impacts of China’s Artificial Islands in the South China Sea

The South China Sea is one of the most used sea lane in the universe and is recently becoming a center of significant political tensions because the neighboring countries are turning it into the most dangerous point of conflict in Asia. With the recent activities in China, it is evident that the state intends to increase its presence in the area despite the fact that the Philippines and Vietnam occupy most of the city[footnoteRef:16].

The actions could make China a highly isolated place because the neighboring areas are against China. This is because the Chinese officials continue to insist that their activities are not harmful in the region despite the fact that the Artificial Island is said to be a highly unfriendly place to the environment. [16: Gao, Zhiguo, and Bing Bing Jia. “The nine-dash line in the South China Sea: History, status, and implications.” American Journal of International Law 107.1 (2013): 98-123.]

The security of regional stability and alliance is threatened in future because the countries around the South China Sea depend on the United States for free trade and SLOCs (Sea Lines of Communication). A crisis could result in adverse economic interests because the cargo ships could divert to other routes and as a result harm the regional economies due to the increase in insurance rates[footnoteRef:17].

China could lose cooperative relationships with other countries because the construction of the islands has shown failure of cooperation with the international bodies. [17: Thayer, Carl. “China’s oil rig gambit: South China Sea game-changer.” The Diplomat 12 (2014).]

A heightened risk of conflict can generate from the artificial islands including political decisions and economic conflicts. The United States is interested in peaceful resolutions regarding the disputes in the South Sea due to the construction of the artificial islands. This is because all the countries that claim the South China Sea use the coastlines and UNCLOS provision to justify their claims[footnoteRef:18].

However, China uses only the historic rights and legal claims as well as the nine-dashed line on the Chinese maps. The interests of the United States could be harmed by the failure of upholding the international law and norms in China as well as other parts of the globe[footnoteRef:19]. The navigators need freedom which the United States feels obligated to do, and it insists that the foreign militaries should seek permission in advance to sail in the EEZ casts. [18: Liu, Yunling, et al.

“Distal mud deposits associated with the Pearl River over the northwestern continental shelf of the South China Sea.” Marine Geology 347 (2014): 43-57.] [19: Beckman, Robert. “The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the maritime disputes in the South China Sea.” American Journal of International Law 107.1 (2013): 142-163.]

The United States as the Main Player and the Policies that could be implemented

The United States is the primary player in the issues resulting from the artificial islands and as a result should resolve the disputes peacefully. The legal jurisdictions regarding the waters and the seabed should be made clear as well as the legality of the military operations in the EEZ of a country[footnoteRef:20]. Since the breakthrough of this issue might take a long time, the United States should pay attention to lowering the risk of potential armed clashes that may arise from unintended disputes or miscalculations. The policymakers in the United States should use their power to avert a crisis and conflict in the South China Sea. [20: Fels, Enrico, and T. Vu. Power Politics in Asia’s Contested Waters. Springer, 2016.]

The US should support risk reduction measures by using operational safety measures and expanding the naval cooperation between America and China. As a result, the risk of accidents between aircrafts and ships can be prevented. The MMCA that was created in 1988 aimed at establishing rules of roads and it could be utilized to ensure that safety is enhanced in the area[footnoteRef:21]. The tensions can be defused by developing effective communication mechanisms whereby the US can use political and military hotline to prevent the crisis from escalating. [21: Thayer, Carl. “China’s oil rig gambit: South China Sea game-changer.” The Diplomat 12 (2014).]

The capabilities of the regional actors could be boosted to defend the territorial and maritime and as a result, improve the awareness of the domain. America should encourage the players to settle the sovereignty dispute in the international court of justice. This could be achieved by supporting a tribunal from outside to mediate or resolve the conflict[footnoteRef:22]. America should promote regional risk reduction measures by associating the ASEAN (Southeast Asian Nations).

Multilateral mechanisms and procedures should be used to improve operational safety among the navies. New dialogue mechanisms should also be employed to ensure that there is maritime security and cooperation regarding information sharing. [22: Han, Xiqiu, et al. “Past methane release events and environmental conditions at the upper continental slope of the South China Sea: constraints by seep carbonates.” International Journal of Earth Sciences 103.7 (2014): 1873-1887.

Han, Xiqiu, et al. “Past methane release events and environmental conditions at the upper continental slope of the South China Sea: constraints by seep carbonates.” International Journal of Earth Sciences 103.7 (2014): 1873-1887.]

Joint development economic cooperation should be advocated to prevent the underutilized claims from the nations in the South China Sea[footnoteRef:23]. In the case that the United States fails to avert crisis from occurring, it should mitigate the potential advert effects. It should defuse the incidence and mitigate a regional crisis in China by dispatching naval forces and air to defend the interests of the United States. [23: Cordesman, Anthony H., and Steven Colley. Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2015: A Comparative Analysis. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.]

Conclusion

China has built artificial Islands in the South Sea China and as a result, has led to tension. The activities have violated the international law by not following the UNCLOS and created political and military implications. The fisheries industries have been affected because the islands have taken some of the most productive areas and destroyed some coral reefs and marine life. The issues may result in some future crisis whereby China may lack international cooperation as well as have political crisis with the neighboring countries. Since the United States is the key player, it should come up with policies that can help to prevent the crisis from occurring and protect the maritime across the globe.

References

Amer, Ramses. “China, Vietnam, and the South China Sea: disputes and dispute management.” Ocean Development & International Law 45.1 (2014): 17-40.
Bader, Jeffrey, Kenneth Lieberthal, and Michael McDevitt. Keeping the South China Sea in Perspective. Brookings, 2014.
Beckman, Robert. “The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the maritime disputes in the South China Sea.” American Journal of International Law 107.1 (2013): 142-163.
Cheng, Joseph YS, and Stephanie Paladini. “China’s ocean development strategy and its handling of the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea.” Philippine Political Science Journal 35.2 (2014): 185-202.
Cordesman, Anthony H., and Steven Colley. Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2015: A Comparative Analysis. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
Dupuy, Florian, and Pierre-Marie Dupuy. “A legal analysis of China’s historic rights claim in the South China Sea.” American Journal of International Law 107.1 (2013): 124-141.
Fels, Enrico, and T. Vu. Power Politics in Asia’s Contested Waters. Springer, 2016.
Gao, Zhiguo, and Bing Bing Jia. “The nine-dash line in the South China Sea: History, status, and implications.” American Journal of International Law 107.1 (2013): 98-123.
Han, Xiqiu, et al. “Past methane release events and environmental conditions at the upper continental slope of the South China Sea: constraints by seep carbonates.” International Journal of Earth Sciences 103.7 (2014): 1873-1887.
Liu, Yunling, et al. “Distal mud deposits associated with the Pearl River over the northwestern continental shelf of the South China Sea.” Marine Geology 347 (2014): 43-57.
Short, Michael, et al. Strategic environmental assessment and land use planning: an international evaluation. Routledge, 2013.
Singh, Swaran, and Lilian Yamamoto. “China’s artificial islands in the south China sea: geopolitics versus rule of law.” Revista de Direito Econômico e Socioambiental 8.1 (2017): 4-23.
Thayer, Carl. “China’s oil rig gambit: South China Sea game-changer.” The Diplomat 12 (2014).
Yahuda, Michael. “China’s new assertiveness in the South China Sea.” Journal of Contemporary China 22.81 (2013): 446-459.

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