We are witnessing a new geopolitical reality in the South China Sea

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Over the past two years, China has been methodically terraforming small reefs and shoals into islands in the highly contentious South China Sea (SCS). The SCS is important not only because of its strategic, trade, and resource potential but also because many of the claimants’ direct links with the U.S. such as the Philippines. China’s progressive pace of reclamation and the exponential growth of infrastructure on these islands has alarmed the international community. China’s ambitions have yet to be confirmed since Beijing remains tight lipped, adding cause for concern by the SCS’s surrounding nations.

It appears that Beijing’s efforts are a coordinated attempt to wrest control of the SCS by a novel policy of “island-building” that is analogous to the systematic encroachment policy pejoratively known by China watchers as “salami-slicing.” It is important to draw a distinction between terraforming claims by other nations, such as United Arab Emirates’ coastal city of Dubai, and China’s claims. Dubai’s reclamation efforts of the Palm and World Islands off the Emirati coast are not part of an expansive territorial grab or to defend Emirati territory.

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