Building a Normative Order in the South China Sea
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Building a Normative Order in the South China Sea

Evolving Disputes, Expanding Options

Edited by Truong T. Tran, John B. Welfield and Thuy T. Le

The South China Sea, where a number of great powers and regional players contend for influence, has emerged as one of the most potentially explosive regions in the world today. What can be done to reduce the possibility of conflict, solve the outstanding territorial problems, and harness the potential of the sea to promote regional development, environmental sustainability and security? This book, with contributions from leading authorities in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore and the United States, seeks to illuminate these questions.
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Chapter 7: Constructions at sea: impacts and legal regime

Nguyen Thi Lan Anh


Features at sea are products of nature. The tide serves as an indicator to classify features into submerged features, low tide elevations or islands. These features, however, are subject to change in either height or area or both, due to natural movements of the seabed and also to the artificial interference of human beings. Coastal states tend to conduct artificial interference in numerous ways including land reclamation, building construction, or using obsolete oil platforms to change the features at sea, making outposts for resource exploitation, maritime scientific research, security purposes and generating maritime spaces. In cases where maritime or territorial disputes exist, claimant states also tend to use artificial constructions to fortify the claims, leading to opposition from others and further complicating the situation. This chapter will analyze the legal regime of and impact on features at sea after construction has taken place, particularly in the context of a maritime or territorial dispute. It will conclude, on the basis of UNCLOS, that for the purpose of generating maritime spaces, it is the status and location of the features before, not after, the undertaking of the artificial interference that classify the features as islands or artificial islands. In the overlapping maritime zone, such construction will not create any entitlement for the constructor as the entitlement over a submerged feature or a low tide elevation will be decided upon the entitlement from land or islands in maritime delimitation. Pending final maritime delimitation, excessive construction is not constructive and only results in complications and escalation of disputes.

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