Updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed, Aug 18, 2021

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China’s Large-Scale Reclamation Works Over Disputed Spratly Islands Not Valid: Study

South China Sea dispute

(Photo : REUTERS GRAPHICS) Maps showing the claims of six Asian countries contesting all or parts of the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea.

In the course of the dispute over the Spratly Islands, China's extensive reclamation works do not necessarily act as a ticket to win sovereignty claims in accordance with the maritime provisions of international law.

A Eurasia Review analysis cited China's ongoing infrastructure projects on several of the seven reefs it occupies in Spratly. But according to the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, participating nations should restrict themselves any activities that would further cause complications.

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Currently, China is expanding Fiery Cross Reef to 2 square kilometers, as big as the combined size of Spratly's13 largest islands. But China is the sole violator; in fact, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have respective reclamation projects in the disputed seas.

Yongshu Reef belongs to the seven reef areas under China's control, but the legality and jurisdiction of such claim remains in dispute with the Philippines. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) serves as the arbitral tribunal to which China decided not to participate in.

In the arbitration case, the Philippines said three of the seven reefs under China pass the international definition of an island in the basis that they are naturally formed above high tide.

However, the Philippine government added that the islands on the said reefs are very small and not capable to sustain habitation. Therefore, China is entitled to a 12-nautical mile territorial sea and not an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In addition, the Philippines argued that China does not hold any sovereign rights or maritime zones for the remaining four reefs since it is not classified as islands. In all of the arguments raised by the contending party, Eurasia Review wrote that China possibly violates certain provisions of the international law.

One, the fact that other countries also filed dispute in some of the reefs, China cannot use its ongoing reclamation works to strengthen sovereign claim. Two, China cannot use infrastructures built on submerged islands to be given EEZ entitlement mainly because these islands are classified as "artificial".

Finally, current provisions in UNCLOS do not specify whether or not China can convert uninhabited rocks to reclamation sites to obtain EEZ.

Aside from the above conditions, Eurasia Review cited that though China's reclamation projects may be proved valid, it is also pending environmental preservation. China must also consult effected nations and all works must be done in good faith.

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