The Chinese government is threatening the marine biodiversity in the South China Sea through land reclamation. Beijing already added more the 1,200 hectares to the islands in the region since December 2013, according to the article written by James Borton and Nguyen Chu Hoi.
The Chinese government is doing a majority of its land reclamation on the Spratly Islands, which are located in the waters between Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. These countries along with Brunei, China, and Taiwan are claiming parts of the South China Sea including the Spratly Islands.
China land reclamation environmental impact
Borton and Hoi noted that the political implications of Beijing’s land reclamation in the islands in the South China have been well documented, but its environmental impact has been less discussed.
According to the authors, Beijing’s land reclamation poses a catastrophic impact on the environment particularly the marine biodiversity and fishery in the South China Sea.
Borton and Hoi emphasized that China’s activities are endangering fish stocks and threatening some of the world’s most spectacular sea life over the long-term. They also noted that the Chinese government is rapidly destroying thousands of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other shallow-water ecosystems.
“The land reclamation project is undermining the ecological connection between the Spratly Islands and the South China Sea, choking off the supply of nutrients upon which these ecosystems depend on,” according to Borton and Hoi.
Additionally, the authors pointed out that China’s aggressive action and “undefined ownership of the region and its fish stocks” resulted to “destructive overfishing.” Its actions are also degrading the marine ecosystem and threatening endangered species including sea turtles, sharks, and giant clams. They noted that the fishery reserves in the South China Sea declined by 16% since 2010.
Borton and Hoi pointed out that approximately 300 million are dependent on the marine resources in the South China for their livelihood. According to them, China’s continuous reclamation would lead to a massive economic problem.
Furthermore, they emphasized that the South China Sea is important not only for the countries around it but the entire world because it is a critical international maritime route. The South China Sea connects the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, where more than 300 vessels are passing every day.
International community must condemn China
Borton and Hoi said the internal community should condemn China over its militarization of the Spratly Islands, and encourage its leaders to change its direction to reduce. Reversing its action could reduce the conflict that could become even more dangerous for the marine environment in the South China Sea.
Additionally, they also suggested that all of the countries responsible for the degradation and destruction of the shallow-water ecosystems in the South China Sea must stop their activities that threaten the biodiversity and economic productivity of the region.
China violates international laws
According to them, the Chinese government’s land reclamation violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which guarantees the right to navigation within its waters.
The Chinese government is claiming a large portion of the disputed territories in the South China Sea including the Spratly and Paracel Islands based on the so-called nine-dash line. Beijing argued that these islands were part of its territory centuries ago, and it is using a 1947 map to support its claims.
Aside from violating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China also violated several international environmental conventions, according to Borton and Choi.
The Chinese government violated the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Furthermore, they noted that China violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea because of its militarization of the Spratly Islands. The authors explained that the signatories to the declaration—the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are required to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
The signatories are obliged to refrain from taking actions of inhabiting the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features in the region. They must also handle disputes in a constructive way.
The authors suggested that the ASEAN should redouble its efforts to reach and agreement with China regarding the situation in the Spratly Islands and the South China Sea. According to them, the international community should support such effort.
Moreover, they emphasized that all countries in the region are responsible for monitoring and preserving its marine environment and manage its resources. According to them, China has the real responsibility given its actions in the region, and it must live up to its obligations.
They also emphasized that the most powerful countries worldwide should lead by example when it comes to international law.