The Impact of Artificial Islands on Territorial Disputes Over The Sparatly Islands

by Zou Keyuan

Abstract: The issue of artificial islands in the South China Sea has little been detailed discussed in the context of territorial and maritime disputes. Even in international law, the term “artificial islands” remains controversial and there is no universally accepted definition of it, though several provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea mention “artificial islands”.


With the development of science and technology and the increasing endeavors of nations States to creep over to occupy more space from the oceans, the issue of artificial islands becomes more salient. This paper attempts to discuss this issue in an international law perspective with special reference to the Spratly Islands and to provoke more discussions about it in future.


It is difficult to find a clear answer to the question on how and to what extent artificial islands will have impacts on the disputes over the Spratly Islands. There might also be some doubts as to whether there are artificial islands really existing in the South China Sea. If yes, what are these artificial islands? This paper attempts to discuss the issue of artificial islands in an international law perspective. Although the term artificial islands also includes artificial installations and structures such as oil platforms or fishing breeding constructions (for example, abandoned or obsolete oil platforms sometimes can be used as artificial reefs for fishery habitat construction),[1]this paper mainly focuses on artificial islands per se.

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