Taiwan Presses Forward With Secretive Construction After Downgrade of Its South China Sea Island


There are no islands in the Spratly Islands. Only rocks.

At least, that’s according to an international tribunal’s ruling earlier this year that said, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, Taiwan’s “Itu Aba” island is in fact, just a rock. Itu Aba, also known as Taiping Island, is the largest of the naturally occurring Spratly Islands, measuring about 1.4 kilometers long.

The distinction between rock and island is an important one, because according to UNCLOS, rocks are entitled to more than 20 nautical kilometers of territorial waters, while islands produce a 370-nautical kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and an EEZ gives the rights holder access to fish, oil, natural gas and whatever else may be present. The decision appears to have made no impact on countries’ interest in developing their remote outposts in the vast sea.