Why China is building islands in the South China Sea

Vox_Since 2014, China has been building islands in the middle of the South China Sea. What were once underwater reefs are now sandy islands complete with airfields, roads, buildings, and missile systems. In less than two years, China has turned seven reefs into seven military bases in the South China Sea, one of the most contentious bodies of water in the world.

The sea is one of the most important areas of ocean in the world. It’s estimated to hold 11 billion barrels of oil, 109 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 10 percent of the world’s fisheries. Most importantly, 30 percent of the world’s shipping trade flows through the South China Sea to the busy ports of Southeast Asia. It’s an incredibly important strategic area, and five countries currently claim some part of it.

Most countries base their claims off the

href=””>United Nations Law of the Seas, which says a country’s territory extends 200 miles off its shores, an area called the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. Any trade or resources that fall in a country’s EEZ belong to that country; they’re its sovereign territory. Any area that is not in an EEZ is considered international waters and subject to UN maritime law, meaning it’s shared by everyone. Every country in the region, which includes Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Vietnam, bases its claim to the South China Sea on the UN’s EEZ laws — except China.

China argues it has a historical claim to the South China Sea, dating back to naval expeditions in the 15th century. After World War II, the Japanese Empire lost control of the South China Sea, and China took advantage of the moment to reclaim it. On maps, it started drawing a dashed line that encompassed most of the South China Sea. This line became its official claim and is known today as the Nine-Dash Line, because it always has nine dashes. In 1973, when the UN law established EEZs, China reaffirmed its Nine-Dash Line, refusing to clarify the line’s boundaries and rejecting other countries’ claims.

Since then, tensions have built around who rightfully owns the South China Sea. The dispute has centered on the Spratly Islands, an archipelago at the heart of the South China Sea. Currently, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam claim some part of the Spratly Island chain. They’ve asserted their claims by putting small buildings, ports, and even some people on what are essentially rocks in the middle of the ocean.

But the Spratlys are very important, because whichever country can successfully claim them can extend its EEZ to include them, thus gaining miles of precious sovereign territory. This is why China began building up islands in 2014. By turning these rocks into military bases, the Chinese are now able to support hundreds of ships, bolstering their presence in the region. They are using fishing boats, surveillance ships, and navy destroyers to set up blockades around other countries’ islands and defend their own. This is all done very cautiously and in small steps in order to avoid sparking a wider conflict.

Since China began building islands, the disputes have not become violent. But tensions are building in the region. As China deploys more of its military to the Spratlys, other countries are getting nervous and building up their own islands. It’s a complex situation that will continue to gain international attention, for better or for worse.


Biển Đông: Mỹ, Trung quốc, và Việt Nam

Tại Biển Đông, có lẽ ai cũng thấy hai lực lớn kèn cựa nhau là Mỹ và Trung Quốc. Các nước khác thì có vẻ ấm ấm lạnh lạnh, không quá quan tâm đến vấn đề. Kampuchia thì có vẻ thiên hẳn về TQ. Phi Luật Tân là nước chống TQ mạnh nhất, nay đã đổi chiều. Chỉ VN là còn đứng trong thế cứng cựa với TQ, tiếp tục mời mọc các công ty của các nước đầu tư vào các lô biển để thăm dò và khai thác dầu hoặc khí đốt, tiếp tục lên tiếng chống đối mỗi khi TQ tuyên bố gì hay làm gì ở Biển Đông, trong khi vẫn cố gắng giữ liên hệ ngoại giao tốt với TQ trong những lãnh vực khác, và vẫn giữ ngoại giao thân thiện với Mỹ. Continue reading “Biển Đông: Mỹ, Trung quốc, và Việt Nam”

Giờ này năm tới

Bài này là bản cập nhật của bản nguyên thủy năm 2014

Chào các bạn,

Same time next year là cuốn phim Mỹ năm 1978, nói về một câu chuyện bắt đầu năm 1951 giữa một cô 24 tuổi và một cậu 27 tuổi, cả hai đều đã có gia đinh và hạnh phúc với gia đinh, gặp nhau trong một quán ăn, thích nhau và có một one-night affair với nhau. Cả hai vẫn yêu gia đình của mình, nhưng cũng muốn giữ liên hệ với nhau, nên hẹn nhau năm tới cùng ngày này sẽ gặp lại nhau nơi này. Và họ hẹn mỗi năm một lần như thế, thân thiết nhau kinh khủng, cho đến cuối phim… ở năm 1977, tức là 26 năm sau. Các bạn có thể đọc thêm chi tiết ở đây.

Mình cũng có chuyện Giờ này năm tới cho các bạn. Continue reading “Giờ này năm tới”

Duterte says China’s Xi threatened war if Philippines drills for oil


File photo of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. (Photo: AFP)

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday (May 19) Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had warned him there would be war if Manila tried to enforce an arbitration ruling and drill for oil in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

In remarks that could infuriate China, Duterte hit back at domestic critics who said he has gone soft on Beijing by refusing to push it to comply with an award last year by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ruled largely in favor of the Philippines. Continue reading “Duterte says China’s Xi threatened war if Philippines drills for oil”

Philippines to ‘set aside’ South China Sea tribunal ruling to avoid imposing on Beijing

The Guardian

Philippines president Duterte says: ‘I will not impose anything on China’ despite fresh report showing militarisation of disputed reefs

A satellite image of what appears to be anti-aircraft guns and other systems on the artificial island Hughes Reef in the South China Sea.
A satellite image of what appears to be anti-aircraft guns and other systems on the artificial island Hughes Reef in the South China Sea. Photograph: DigitalGlobe/Reuters

The Philippine president has said he would “set aside” a ruling by an international arbitration tribunal that invalidated Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea, because he doesn’t want to impose on China. Continue reading “Philippines to ‘set aside’ South China Sea tribunal ruling to avoid imposing on Beijing”

UPDATED: Imagery Suggests Philippine Fishermen Still Not Entering Scarborough Shoal


Despite earlier reports, it appears that Filipino fishermen are still not fishing inside Scarborough Shoal. New imagery from October 29 showed a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel anchored just inside the mouth of the lagoon, where it has been for most of the period since China seized the shoal in 2012, apparently blocking access. At least 17 Philippine fishing vessels were present along the exterior of Scarborough’s reef. This corroborates reports that Filipino fishermen fished “just outside Scarborough’s lagoon” over the last week. There were also two Chinese civilian ships in the vicinity. According to the Philippine Navy, three other CCG vessels continue to patrol near Scarborough. Continue reading “UPDATED: Imagery Suggests Philippine Fishermen Still Not Entering Scarborough Shoal”

CSIS – China Tightens Grip on Scarborough Shoal Post-Ruling – AMTI Brief

China Tightens Grip on Scarborough Shoal Post-Ruling

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s recent trip to Beijing yielded a number of agreements, including a vaguely-worded commitment to peacefully resolve the South China Sea disputes. But there was no public breakthrough on one closely-watched topic: the ability of Filipino fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoal. An international tribunal ruled on July 12 that China’s closure of the shoal to Philippine fishing was illegal. But in the lead-up to Duterte’s visit, Filipino fishermen complained that it was becoming more, not less, difficult for them to approach Scarborough. Recent satellite imagery supports this conclusion. Continue reading “CSIS – China Tightens Grip on Scarborough Shoal Post-Ruling – AMTI Brief”

Tracking China’s Compliance with the South China Sea Arbitral Award


By Julian Ku, Chris Mirasola

Monday, October 3, 2016, 2:39 PM

Since the arbitral tribunal formed pursuant to the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) handed China a stunning legal defeat in July, China has loudly proclaimed its intention to ignore the arbitral award.  For most analysts of the region, it has been a working assumption that China has not and will not comply with any parts of the award.   But China’s statements that it will ignore the award do not necessarily mean that it is currently in complete non-compliance or that it will never come into compliance in the future.  China’s actions, as opposed to terse public statements, must be assessed as a measure of its compliance. Continue reading “Tracking China’s Compliance with the South China Sea Arbitral Award”