China is Building Artificial Islands

Over the past 7 years, China has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea.


Justice Fauver, Staff Writer

China has conducted a land construction project which has built at least seven artificial islands in the South China Sea totaling 2000 acres in size by 2015.  China has been very vague in their intentions with the islands, claiming they were made for navigational purposes but also hosting military bases.

Dredgers dump sediment onto Mischief Reef. (Digital Globe)

The speed and scale of China’s island-building has gained the attention of other countries with interests in the region. According to Newsweek, China announced in June of 2017 that the creation of islands would soon be totally completed. Since that statement, China has focused its efforts on construction on the islands. So far it has constructed ports, military buildings complete with an airstrip on the islands, and lighthouses to aid in navigation, with recent imagery showing evidence of two more airstrips under construction. The settlements aid China in their foothold in the Spratly Islands, a cluster of reefs and islands in the South China Sea more than 500 miles from the Chinese mainland, with its lands heavily debated by countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam or Taiwan. China’s activity in the Spratlys is a major point of conflict between China and the United States and was a major topic of discussion between President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China during the Chinese president’s visit to the White House in September of 2016. The artificial islands are an issue with the United States due to China expanding their geographical power, amd their encroachment on the lands of other countries.

A map of the claims from countries in the South China Sea. (CIA, NASA)

The new islands allow China to utilize a portion of the sea for its own use that has been out of reach until now, and open up the door for what future projects could come along. Although there are significant fisheries and possible large oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea, China’s projects purpose is more to fortify its territorial claims than to help it obtain natural resources, according to the NY Times. Though too small to support large military installations, the islands will enable Chinese air and sea patrols of the area. The United States has reported sightings of Chinese mobile artillery vehicles in the region, and the islands could allow China to have more control of the lucrative deep sea fishing in the region. However, this raises a question of whether or not a country should be able to build in international waters, with no clear answer.