The South China Sea has been a shipping thoroughfare for at least the past two millennia. Apart from piracy and occasional acts of war, ships of all types and origins have been free to sail wherever they wished.
Freedom of navigation through the South China Sea could now be at risk. Six countries lay claim to all or part of the Spratly Islands and the Paracels (Fig. 1). Five of them occupy islands or reefs. All five have built structures and infrastructure, and all have reclaimed land to do it. Recently, however, China has instigated something of a reclamation blitzkrieg. It has converted seven submerged reefs into islands, and several of those incorporate runways and harbours. They are primarily for military use and therefore dramatically change the strategic situation. When challenged, China cites an indisputable right to be there.
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