From Satellites to Ships: China’s Island-Building in the South China Sea
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From Satellites to Ships: China’s Island-Building in the South China Sea
2 May @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
In late 2013, the People’s Republic of China began building and fortifying islands across a number of reefs in the South China Sea. These bases, built at immense cost, underscored China’s maritime strategy to dominate one of the world’s most important waterways and overturn decades of established international law, creating in effect a “Chinese lake”. Beijing’s island-building rose to international prominence in part as a result of satellite images and other data released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Washington-based think tank, CSIS. As a result of this, the UK and other European powers have begun taking a more direct interest in what China is attempting to do in the South China Sea, since both their interests in a rules-based system and potentially their economic and security concerns in Asia are affected.
By kind invitation of Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP, we are delighted to invite you to a discussion about China’s island building in the South China Sea with Gregory Poling, Director of the AMTI at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Dr John Hemmings (HJS) and James Rogers (HJS). Using satellite imagery and remote sensing data, Mr. Poling will show how the story unfolded at the time, where it is now, and where it’s going.
Gregory B. Poling is director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) and a fellow with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He oversees research on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia Pacific, with a particular focus on the maritime domain and the countries of Southeast Asia. His research interests include the South China Sea disputes, democratization in Southeast Asia, and Asian multilateralism. Mr. Poling’s writings have been featured in Foreign Affairs, the Wall Street Journal, Nikkei Asian Review, and Foreign Policy, among others. He is the author of The South China Sea in Focus: Clarifying the Limits of Maritime Dispute (CSIS, July 2013). Mr. Poling received an M.A. in international affairs from American University, a B.A. in history and philosophy from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and studied at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Dr. John Hemmings is the Director of the Asia Studies Centre and Deputy Research Director at the Henry Jackson Society. He is also an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. His research focuses on China, Japan, the Korea’s and security and foreign affairs in the Indo-Pacific. Prior to HJS, he worked in the Asia Programme at the Royal United Services Institute. He has a doctorate in international relations from the London School of Economics and writes for the Telegraph, the Interpreter, and the National Interest, among others.
James Rogers is Director of the ‘Global Britain’ Programme at the Henry Jackson Society, of which he is a founding member. Formerly, he held a number of positions at the Baltic Defence College in Estonia and has worked at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP was first elected MP for Sevenoaks in 1997. He was Secretary of State for Defence from July 2014 to November 2017 General Election. Formerly he served as Minister of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Minister of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
The event began with Sir Michael Fallon MP introducing Dr Gregory Poling of CSIS, and Dr John Hemmings and James Rogers of HJS. Dr Poling began his presentation by explaining the issues at stake in the South China Sea. The first issue is the territorial disputes between the neighbouring Asian states. The second issue that is more relevant to the US and the UK is the breakdown of the rules and norms applied to the maritime space, as a result of Chinese action. China has claimed a large amount of water and air space without any legal precedent, and in that space, has built militarized artificial islands. With visual aids, Dr Poling demonstrated how China has built three thousand two hundred acres of new land in the Spratly Islands, bristling with military equipment, in order to intimidate the neighbours, such as the Philippines and Vietnam. If China gets to tear apart the international customary laws in the South China Sea, that would have a global implication. He also reminded us that there are military outposts built by five different countries in this area, and the situation could easily spiral out of control and lead to a conflict that nobody wants. Therefore, it is important that people understand the disputes correctly and respond accordingly. He warned that if no action is taken today, the South China Sea will be Chinese territory shortly, and nobody will be able to challenge it. The Chinese goal is to damage US-led alliances in the region and make the US look like a paper tiger. If China gets to claim thousands of nautical miles of territory arbitrarily, it will lead to the collapse of the international order, because the regime of rules that doesn’t apply to all, ultimately applies to none.
Dr Hemmings posed a question to the audience whether we would be able to shape China’s policy, and James Rogers questioned whether the West will be able to prevent China from shaping the West. The event proceeded to the Q&A .
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