Unreasonable fabrications in a Chinese article about the Fiery Cross Reef

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Information in a Chinese article on the Fiery Cross Reef are completely fabricated. According to international law and practices, the Fiery Cross Reef is a rock, not an island. China does not have sovereignty over the Fiery Cross Reef. Its purpose of militarizing the Fiery Cross Reef is very clear, whereas the purpose of international public service is only fabricated.

On January 27, 2019, a Chinese website ran an article "Nansha (the Spratly Islands) have a double-edged screen brush. What’s going on here now?” making an excuse for the panoramic picture of the infrastructure China is illegally building on the Fiery Cross Reef. The content of the article is totally irrational and critisizable because it is completely fabricated.

Fiery Cross Reef

False information on the regime of islands

Firstly, the evidences given in the article and the way it was written imply that the Fiery Cross Reef is an island. The article says that the Fiery Cross, which was a reef covering less than 0.2 square kilometers, after being reclaimed, has become a 2.8 square-kilometer-large artificial island, about twice the size of Maldives’ capitals in the Indian Ocean, which has a population of more than 100,000. At the same time, the article implies that the Fiery Cross Reef is as valuable as inland cities thanks to its inhabitable construction and facilities (an airstrip of about 3,000 meters long, hangars, a harbor, 4G signals coverage, training grounds, basketball courts, football fields, a second-class first-class hospital with more than 10 specialized departments, a modern 4,000-square-meter large vegetable greenhouse, buildings with air conditioners, televisions, washing machines...)

This interpretation is completely unreasonable because it is not based on provisions of international law and the natural conditions of the Fiery Cross Reef. Article 121 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) clearly states that an island must be “a naturally formed area of land” surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide and exclusive of any artificial islands. Article 60 (paragraph 8) of the UNCLOS 1982 also stipulates that "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”.

To be more specific, the award of the Philippines vs. China arbitration between the by Arbitral Tribunal on July 12, 2016 confirmed that the Fiery Cross Reef is just a rock (not an island). The conclusion of the Arbitral Tribunal is convincing not only because it is part of international law, and provisions of the UNCLOS 1982 and international practices but also because of the accurate evidences on the natural conditions of the Fiery Cross Reef since the second half of the 19th century. The court considered survey data since 1866 by the HMS Rifleman, that there was a rocky outcrop above the water in the southwestern side of the reef. In 1936, the HMS Herald surveyed and described the Fiery Cross Reef as a coral reef with several dry outcrops eroded by waves and the biggest one was 0.6 m above the water. The reef had the total length of 22 kilometers (14 miles) and width of 4.6 kilometers (4 miles). Later, the reef was similarly described in international maritime directories, such as: the China Sea Directory by Great Britain, the US Sailing Directions, the Philippines Coast Pilot, etc. Notably, the Sea Directory of China’s Navy also described that most of the Fiery Cross Reef is submerged, only 7 small rock tips appeared at low tide.

In fact, most regional countries do not recognize the Fiery Cross as an island. Big powers, especially the United States, actively supported the Award of the Arbitral Tribunal. Freedom of navigation operations were even exercised in the South China Sea to challenge China's claim. For example, in May 2016, the United States dispatched the guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence to uphold freedom of navigation here, entering the 12 nautical miles of the Fiery Cross to reject China's claim and reinforce the argument that the Fiery Cross is not entitled to the island regime. In the meantime, regional countries directly or indirectly showed their support to the Award by emphasizing their respect for "legal and diplomatic processes".

Fabrication of sovereignty over the Fiery Cross Reef

Secondly, the article mentions China's fabricated sovereignty over the Fiery Cross Reef. In the article, it is said that the artificial extension of the reefs in the South China Sea helps safeguard the so-called territorial and sovereign integrity of the South China Sea islands... and the construction of islands and reefs in the South China Sea is the issue of sovereignty and China has the responsibility and obligation to defend its sea areas and airspace within the scope of the so-called “U-shaped line”.

This point of view has two irrational points. The first one is that China does not have sovereignty over the Fiery Cross Reef and the Spratly Islands’ features. China has just landed and occupied the Fiery Cross Reef since January 31, 1988. This is one of a series of acts to occupy the Spratly Islands by force, with the peak being the Johnson South Reef Skirmish in March 1988. China's actions violated the provision of the United Nations Charter prohibiting the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state (Article 2, paragraph 4). Therefore, this action did not constitute an affirmation of China's sovereignty over the Fiery Cross Reef and other features occupied by China in the Spratly Islands. On the contrary, it is evidence proving that China violated international law.

The second point is that the "U-shaped line" (or the "nine-dashed line") is very ambiguous, having neither objective foundation nor any international law, especially the UNCLOS 1982. Considering the "U-shaped line" as a basis to measure the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone or continental shelf is absolutely wrong. The reasons are that (i) the "U-shaped line" was drawn liberally by an individual 34 years before the UNCLOS 1982 and reused by the Republic of China’s government. None of international law agencies recognize this line as China's maritime boundary. Right after China distributed the map showing the “U-shaped line” in 2009, regional countries, especially those bordering the South China Sea such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia have all officially protested. Big powers, typically the US, have also officially rejected the "U-shaped line". (ii) In fact, the distance from China's baseline to the "U-shaped line" is many times further than the allowed breadth of sea areas according to the UNCLOS 1982. (iii) The verdict given by the Arbitral Tribunal on the Philippines vs. China case rejected China’s historic rights within the "U-shaped line". The Tribunal ruled that “China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dashed line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention”. The verdict also emphasized that the Convention superseded any historic rights or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction in excess of the limits imposed therein.

Lies about international public services

Thirdly, the article also lies about international public services. It does not conceal China's military intentions in reclaiming the Fiery Cross Reef and occupied features in the Spratly Islands, considering the Fiery Cross Reef and other artificial features such as the Subi Reef and the Mischief Reef as unsinkable carriers. China has let civilian aircraft take off and land on, deployed air-to-air missiles and anti-ship missiles to the Fiery Cross Reef. In parallel, the article claims that the construction of infrastructures and facilities on the Fiery Cross Reef serves to enforce China's international obligations at the request of the UNESCO and operate international emergency missions such as search and rescue, sheltering fishermen (that in March 1987, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the UNESCO authorized China to establish an oceanographic observatory in the Spratly Islands, then China selected the Fiery Cross Reef as the UNESCO Ocean Observatory).

China's militarization of the South China Sea in general and the Fiery Cross Reef in particular is clear as daylight. The article must be condemned as it sees this as a fact, deliberately ignoring that the mobilization of offensive weapons into the South China Sea is a unilateral action to expand space control and monopolize the South China Sea, causing insecurity to surrounding countries and affecting the safety of foreign vessels passing through the South China Sea.

China's boast of international obligations is completely fabricated. In fact, China was cunning, deliberately taking advantage of an international organization's name to defend, obscure the use of force to invade the Fiery Cross Reef and other features in the Spratly Islands in 1988, and reinforce its unreasonable, illegal sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, does not have the authority to assign China the task of building an observatory in the territory of other countries.

In short, information in the Chinese article about the Fiery Cross Reef are completely false. According to international law and practices, the Fiery Cross Reef is a rock, not an island. China does not have sovereignty over the Fiery Cross Reef. Military purpose are very clear, the purpose of international public services are only fabricated.