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Artificial Island Building in the South China Sea

China’s artificial island building: Cuarteron Reef

Cuarteron Reef (8°54’N., 112°52’E.) is the easternmost of the London Reefs. China started occupying the reef since February 19, 1988 after its navy ships successfully blocked Vietnam’s army engineers from entering the feature (1).

In Robert Beckman and Clive Schofield’ analysis of satellite imagery and previous studies, Cuarteron Reef is classified as rock and is entitled 12 nm territorial sea of its own.

At least before 2013, the only artificial constructions on the reef were permanent reef fortresses and supply platforms with communications equipment, search radars as well as naval guns and anti-aircraft guns, which can serve as docks for Chinese navy patrol boats (2).

However, recent photos from Chinese media show the land reclamation near the platforms and an artificial island was being built on that reef (3).

According to a Phil Star Report on June 13 of 2014, a dredger equipped with a long black hose can be seen spreading seabed material over a wide area. In May 2014, the Philippine military’s air territorial patrol monitored the presence of a number of Chinese vessels in the vicinity of Cuarteron Reef (4).

AISLive ship tracking data reported by IHS Jane’s in June 2014 showed Ting Jing Hao , a dredger responsible for most of China’s land reclamation in the Spratlys, had visited Cuateron Reef three times since September 2013, most recently 10 April to 22 May 2014 (5).

 The Ting Jing Hao deploys a cutter with the power of 4,200 kW to the seabed to a depth of 30 m, sucks up the seabed and deposits the spoil either through pipeline ashore for land reclamation or into hopper barges for dumping offshore. The extraction rate is 4,500 m3 per hour, making it ideal for large-scale land reclamation, says IHS Jane’s (6).

Below are photos showing the development of the reef since 1988.

Cuareton reef in 2009

Photo of the fortress platform constructed on Cuareton reef taken in 2009. Around the platform is water (7)

Details of fortress platform on Cuateron Reef

Details of fortress platform on Cuateron Reef (8)

A Google satellite image of Cuateron Reef in 2013

A Google satellite image of Cuateron Reef in 2013 (9)

Photo of artificial island on Cuateron reef reportedly taken in July 19, 2014

Photo of artificial island on Cuateron reef reportedly taken in July 19, 2014 (3)

Construction activity at the site

Construction activity at the site (3)

According to Article 60(8) of UNCLOS: “Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf.”

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References:

(1) Vietnam’s lieutenant colonel Nguyễn Văn Dân retelling how China seized Cuarteron Reef: https://maithanhhaivietnam.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/ngay-1921988-trung-qu%E1%BB%91c-da-d%E1%BB%95-quan-len-bai-chau-vien-tr%C6%B0%E1%BB%9Dng-sa-va-s%E1%BA%B5n-sang-n%E1%BB%95-sung-n%E1%BA%BFu-minh-len/

(2) China builds more Spratly outposts. The Philippine Star May 24, 2011: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/688856/china-builds-more-spratly-outposts

(3) Vietnam media reports on China’s land reclamation on Cuarteron Reef, citing source from China’s media: http://dantri.com.vn/the-gioi/trung-quoc-tuyen-bo-bien-da-chau-vien-thanh-dao-lon-nhat-truong-sa-973558.htm

(4) China reclaiming land in 5 reefs?: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2014/06/13/1334238/china-reclaiming-land-5-reefs

(5) China advances with Johnson South Reef construction. IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, September 19, 2014: http://www.janes.com/article/43456/china-advances-with-johnson-south-reef-construction

(6) China goes all out with major island building project in Spratlys. IHS Maritme 360 20 June 2014: http://www.ihsmaritime360.com/article/13274/china-goes-all-out-with-major-island-building-project-in-spratlys

(7), (8), (9): Photos from The Philippine Star, Hoangsa Forum.

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