China’s stance on contested waters is becoming more aggressive. So aggressive in fact that a U.S. Naval officer, Admiral Harry Harris, have voiced his concern – rather raucously – at the Australian War Memorial.
Another Great wall
In the current state of things, China is creating a wall of artificial island over at the South China Sea, an expanse that might threaten the stability in the area. These islands were once a small patch of land – if you could even call it land, more like reefs – but due to China’s effort it now spans about 3,000 yards long.
The tension among neighboring countries is getting thicker as the country continues on their mission. But what exactly is that mission? Why build artificial islands, at all?
The benefit of turning rocks to islands
There is an imperative difference between a collection of rocks and reefs compare to actual isles. According to the United Convention on the Law of the Sea the latter has more significant rights than the former. The Philippines cited this and China countered that they’re merely expanding the already existing islands.
Holders of these islands gains what’s referred to as Exclusive Economic Zone, giving them exclusive right of 200 nautical miles of the coastline, as well as the liberty to explore potential energy resources that the area harbor, which it most likely does.
Last February, China has announced their gas find over the South China Sea which reportedly could yield 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas.
So by turning these rocks and reefs to isles, China can then gain the Exclusive Economic Zone. Furthermore, as they’ve already made significant progress on the questioned areas it would be difficult in the future to determine whether or not these were indeed islands in the first place or not.
Regarding Admiral Harris’ concern, it is more likely that China has other plans for these expansions. Base on satellite images on the current state of these expanded islands, it would seem that it is now big enough to house an airstrip. Other developed isles such as the Gaven Reef have now a helipad and an anti- aircraft tower.
This just strengthens the accusation to China that it’s not just out for natural resources exploration, but also means to build a much threatening military presence in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated otherwise, explaining that these projects are being built on their turf and the allegation regarding them strengthening their nautical power is far from what they intend.
With China continuing their effort Australia has also made decisions regarding the situation. Tony Abbott, Australia’s current Prime Minister, has signed a landmark security cooperation agreement with Vietnam.
Given that 60 percent of Australia’s trade is going through the South China Sea, the country couldn’t help but be involve in this maritime dispute. The U.S. has also called for China to cease its endeavor to which China rebuffed the appeal.
The expansion is still currently ongoing – rather rapidly, judging by the progress they’ve made in months – and it would seem that China’s not planning to cease their effort anytime soon.