The South China Sea’s disputed waters are claimed by seven countries, and The Hague rulings came in response to a case brought against China by the Philippines. China dismissed The Hague’s decision as “nothing but a scrap of paper.”
The tribunal found that damage to the coral reefs in the Spratly Islands is extensive, spreading for more than 30 square miles. Much of that damage is caused by China’s island-building — turning pristine reefs into permanent military outposts that include massive runways.
However destructive the island-building is, it’s nothing compared to the damage done by the poaching of giant clams, says Carpenter. Chinese fishermen have been destroying entire reefs, he says, by using propellers to try to dredge up and harvest the clams, which appear on the IUCN Red List as a “vulnerable” species.
Even if China were to abandon the artificial islands, he warns, the environment in the area could take decades — if ever — to recover. Tearing down the islands at this point, he says, isn’t the answer, either, and would cause more damage than has already been done.
Some background information from Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spratly_Islands_dispute
The Spratly Islands dispute is an ongoing territorial dispute between Brunei, China (People’s Republic of China), Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, concerning ownership of the Spratly Islands, a group of islands and associated “maritime features” (reefs, banks, cays, etc.) located in the South China Sea. The dispute is characterised by diplomatic stalemate and the employment of military pressure techniques (such as military occupation of disputed territory) in the advancement of national territorial claims. All except Brunei occupy some of the maritime features.
There has been a sharp rise in media coverage owing mainly to China’s increasingly vocal objection to the presence of American naval vessels transiting the area in order to assert the right to freedom of navigation within international waters.
Most of the “maritime features” in this area have at least six names: The “International name”, usually in English; the “Chinese name”, sometimes different for PRC and ROC, (and also in different character-sets); the Vietnamese, Philippine and Malaysian names, and also, there are alternate names, (e.g. Spratly Island is also known as Storm Island), and sometimes names with “colonial” origins (French, Portuguese, Spanish, British, etc.).
The Spratly Islands are important for economic and strategic reasons. The Spratly area holds potentially significant, but largely unexplored, reserves of oil and natural gas; it is a productive area for world fishing; it is one of the busiest areas of commercial shipping traffic; and surrounding countries would get an extended continental shelf if their claims were recognised. In addition to economic incentives, the Spratlys sit astride major maritime trade routes to Northeast Asia, giving them added significance as positions from which to monitor maritime activity in the South China Sea and to potentially base and project military force from. In 2014, China drew increased international attention due to its dredging activities within the Spratlys, amidst speculation it is planning to further develop its military presence in the area. In 2015 satellite imagery revealed that China was rapidly constructing an airfield on Fiery Cross Reef within the Spratlys whilst continuing its land reclamation activities at other sites. Only China (PRC), Taiwan (ROC), and Vietnam have made claims based on historical sovereignty of the islands. The Philippines, however, claims part of the area as its territory underUNCLOS, an agreement parts of which have been ratified by the countries involved in the Spratly islands dispute.
- What do you know of the Spratly Islands’ Dispute?
- Why might the countries want to claim ownership of these islands?
- What impact might this dispute have?