A look at South China Sea conflicts

By Frank Ching

A couple of weeks ago, IHS Jane’s, a leading British publishing company specializing in military topics, reported that China was reclaiming land at Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea and transforming permanently submerged features that do not qualify as an island under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea into an artificial island big enough to accommodate an airfield and a harbor, the largest Chinese naval facility in the Spratly Islands. With the benefit of modern technology, China is able to transform nature. 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. ��The new island is more than 3,000 meters long and between 200 and 300 meters wide: large enough to construct a runway and apron,�� Jane’s reported. ��The dredgers are also creating a harbor to the east of the reef that would appear to be large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants.�� It went on to say: ��The land reclamation at Fiery Cross is the fourth such project undertaken by China in the Spratly Islands in the last 12-18 months and by far the largest in scope. China has built new islands at Johnson South Reef, Cuateron Reef, and Gaven Reefs, but none are large enough to house an airstrip in their current form.�� Immediately after the disclosure, an American military spokesman, Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Pool, issued a statement saying, ��We urge China to stop its land reclamation program, and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities.�� But a Chinese military officer, Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, responded by saying that the United States is biased against China since the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam are all engaged in similar activities in areas that they control, yet Washington has not called on them to cease and desist. China is a latecomer in the scramble for Spratly features �X its islands, reefs, atolls, and rocks, both submerged and above water. Even though China gained control of all of the Paracels by 1974, it did not start its move southward into the Spratlys until over a decade later despite claiming all of them and today holds only 7 reefs, all originally under water.