China’s latest strategy in the disputed South China Sea

Photograph by Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs/AP Photo

Photograph by Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs/AP Photo

The highly disputed South China Sea is becoming increasingly complex as regional countries find innovative ways of increasing their legitimacy in the international fora.

China is building a number of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea (see BBC’s special report on the subject here), with the intent of setting up military bases and transferring Chinese nationals in order to make them inhabitable. Such a move serves Chinese interests, namely to attain more legitimacy and greater advantage when dealing with claims from their “Sea” rivals, namely the Philippines and Vietnam, among the international community.

By creating artificial islands, China is outmaneuvering rival claims and manipulating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to its own advantage. According to Part VIII of the UNCLOS, “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf“. Considering this, in the likely event that China manages to make those islands inhabitable, Beijing is set to present an event stronger claim, which will make it harder for rival countries to counter. And when the diplomatic way becomes insufficient, other ways may come to surface (increasing military escalation in the Sea?).

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