Science and Geopolitics Converging in the Troubled Waters of the South China Sea


The South China Sea remains at the epicenter of one of the most volatile maritime areas in the world, with little or no agreement on sovereignty claims to the ownership of atolls, submerged banks, islands, reefs and rocks. Yet South China Sea fishermen, marine biologists, and policy shapers agree that without an end to unsustainable fishing practices and urgent adoption of environmental protection measures, a catastrophic marine biodiversity and fishery collapse is imminent.

Beijing’s accelerated land reclamation over these specks of rock in the roiling sea is increasing friction among other claimants like Vietnam and the Philippines. Moreover, the Chinese-directed Spratly Island building expansion on the Johnson, Cuarteron, and Gaven reefs wrecks rich fishing grounds and valuable coral reefs in the archipelago.

The daily dumping of landfill with sand dug from nearby reefs by Chinese laborers, “upsets the marine ecology of the region, completely destroying the formed coral reefs that are hundreds of millions years old. At the same time these actions destroy the habitat of many marine species. Protecting the marine ecological environment is a global issue and citizens all over the world are responsible for that,” claims Dr. Le Van Cuong, former director of the Institute for Strategy and Science and a recognized expert on the South China Sea.

Flashpoints continue in the Scarborough Shoals with critical potential at the Paracel Islands, (China occupied, Vietnam claimed). At this desolate rock formation of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Chinese vessels violently ram Filipino fishermen boats and illegally remove endangered giant clams.

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) senior fellow Gregory Poling believes “anxiety and the expanded patrol and surveillance capacity that Beijing is constructing with facilities, docks, and probably at least one airstrip in the Spratly Islands will complicate the disputes in the South China Sea.” Satellite images confirm the Middle Kingdom’s illegitimate territorial expansions, raising fresh concerns from the United States and Asia.

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