Spratly Islands Dispute: Is a Marine Peace Park the Solution?

By Angelo Balagtas, GLOBUS Correspondent

“Spratlys be turned into an international marine peace park so the countries will suspend all their territorial claims for 50 or 100 years and allow the reef to regrow and be the breeding ground of the fish” 

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, 2016 

The Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea, have long been the subject of dispute as to its ownership. The South China Sea, Covering an area of 800,000 square kilometers, is enclosed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam, resulting in a number of actors within the dispute. The sea contains more than 200 identified islands, islets, reefs, shoals, sand cays, and banks, as well as four major archipelagos, including the Spratly Islands (Nansha).

The archipelagos hold within it a very diverse marine ecosystem, acting as an important source of larvae for coastal ecosystems throughout the South China Sea. Because of this, the idea of setting up a peace park was proposed by John McManus in 2009, with the area dedicated to the “protection and maintenance of biological diversity” and “the promotion of peace and cooperation” (MPA News 2008).

The plan, on its surface, sounds very ideal and very feasible. Indeed, Justice Carpio even provided a solution for militarised zones to be converted into research facilities and ecotourism facilities. However, these plans have long been delayed because of a lack of unanimous agreement between all the affected nations.  A quick google (or ecosia, for the more “sustainable”) search of ‘Marine Peace Park Spratly Islands’ would pull up relevant articles from nothing later than 2016, which suggests that there has been little or no progress as to the development of said Peace Park. That, or perhaps there is a lack of transparency with the actions that are being discussed by the nations involved. In either case, it is evident that the inability to come into consensus as to how best to solve the issue is stalling any form of progress whatsoever.  

However, the protection of the marine ecological environment is a global issue, rendering  the lack of urgent action extremely distressing. Is a Peace Park indeed the solution to the problem at hand? Yes, in an ideal world. In Justice Carpio’s words, it is a ‘win-win solution for everybody’. Disputes are resolved for the next 50 to 100 years. However it cannot be denied that the level of commitment that it requires may be too much for some of the countries involved.  

With sustainability looking like it will continue to be this new decade’s buzzword, (and for good reason) perhaps bringing up this conversation again is important. Perhaps the approach must be changed. Perhaps, even, an entirely new solution should be proposed. In whichever scenario is chosen, it is important to remember that the issue at hand affects not simply one country, nor is it limited to the few countries within the boundaries of the South China Sea, but has a worldwide impact. Therefore solutions may need to consider International Cooperation, or perhaps even pressure in order to actualize movement.  

Header Image: Photo by Phan Hoang Phe on Unsplash

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