Subi Reef, also known as Zhubi Reef (Chinese: 渚碧礁; pinyin: Zhǔbì Jiāo; Tagalog: Zamora; Vietnamese: đá Xu Bi) is a reef in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea located 26 km (16 mi) southwest of Philippine-occupied Thitu Island. It is occupied by China, and claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It currently falls under the jurisdiction of Nansha islands, Sansha city, Hainan province, China.

Topography and features

The atoll measures 5.7 kilometres (3.5 mi) along its longer southwest-northeast axis, and is up to 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) wide. Its total area including the lagoon and rim of the reef measures 16 square kilometres (6.2 sq mi), and the lagoon is up to 22 metres (72 ft) deep.[1]

Naturally above water only at low tide, the reef surrounds a lagoon. The People's Republic of China has constructed a 4-story building, a weather observation station with doppler weather radar, wharfs, and a helipad in the area. A buoyed channel guides ships to the inner lagoon which is 3.7 kilometres (2.3 mi) in diameter.[2][3][4][5]

On 12 July 2016, the tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration confirmed that Subi Reef is, or in their natural condition was, exposed at low tide and submerged at high tide and are, accordingly low-tide elevations that do not generate entitlement to a territorial sea, exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.[6]

Legal issues

As the Subi Reef is under the water, it is considered by the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) as "sea bed" in "international waters". Although the PRC had ratified a limited[7] UNCLOS III not allowing innocent passage of war ships, according the UNCLOS III, features built on the sea bed cannot have territorial waters.[7]

Environmental issues

The PRC has ratified UNCLOS III;[7] the convention establishes general obligations for safeguarding the marine environment and protecting freedom of scientific research on the high seas, and also creates an innovative legal regime for controlling mineral resource exploitation in deep seabed areas beyond national jurisdiction, through an International Seabed Authority and the Common heritage of mankind principle.[8]

Territorial disputes

Subi Reef under reclamation by the PRC, May 2015.

The reef is occupied and controlled by China (PRC), with a 2014 estimate of 200 troops stationed there,[9] and claimed by Taiwan (ROC), the Philippines, and Vietnam. In July 2012, a large fleet of 30 Chinese fishing vessels arrived at the reef from Hainan.[10][11]

In April 2015, a Philippine Navy aircraft patrolling near the reef received "aggressive action" from a Chinese ship.[12] Also in 2015, the USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles (which if applicable is the territorial waters limit of the reef), prompting the Chinese Foreign Ministry to call the action a "provocation" and vowed to keep building up in the South China Sea. As per the US Navy, this was a routine "freedom of navigation" exercise. Similar exercises are performed routinely about 12-28 times per year.[13][14]

During 2014, the PRC started reclaiming land at Subi Reef, and by the end of 2015 had developed it into an island of 3.95 square kilometres (1.53 sq mi), with a military base, a large harbour, and an airstrip of about 3,000 metres (9,800 ft).[15][16] In November 2015, two U.S. B-52 strategic bombers flew in airspace near the area. They were contacted by Chinese ground control, but were allowed to continue their mission undeterred.[17] In April 2016 a new lighthouse 55 metres high commenced operations.[18] A civilian test flight to new airport was conducted by a passenger jet of Hainan Airlines on July 13, 2016.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Atoll Area, Depth and Rainfall: Zhubi
  2. ^ Anda, Redempto (17 July 2012). "Government told of China buildup 2 months ago". Philippine Inquirer. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Jingya, Mei (19 July 2012). "China installed radar on Zhubi Reef:Philippine media". Sina English News. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Digital Gazetteer of the Spratly Islands". www.southchinasea.org. Archived from the original on July 17, 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  5. ^ "高清:菲律宾称中国将在南沙渚碧礁建机场". qq.com. Tencent QQ. Retrieved August 9, 2016. Chinese language page with a collection of 10 photos of the reef and Thitu (Pagasa) Island dated 25 July 2012. Pictures 1,3,4&6 show the buildings on the reef; 5 shows a lighthouse, 7-10 show Pagasa  .
  6. ^ "Award" (PDF). Permanent Court of Arbitration. 12 July 2016.  p.174
  7. ^ a b c "UNCLOS. Declarations upon ratification". 
  8. ^ Jennifer Frakes, The Common Heritage of Mankind Principle and the Deep Seabed, Outer Space, and Antarctica: Will Developed and Developing Nations Reach a Compromise? Wisconsin International Law Journal. 2003; 21:409
  9. ^ DJ Sta. Ana (June 13, 2014). "China reclaiming land in 5 reefs?". www.abs-cbnnews.com. Retrieved September 11, 2014. 
  10. ^ Cunfu, Wang (18 July 2012). "Fishing vessels arrive at Zhubi Reef of south China Sea". Xinhua. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  11. ^ "Fishing vessels arrive at Zhubi Reef of south China Sea". Global Times China. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  12. ^ "Philippine military says Chinese ship took aggressive action". Gulf News. United Arab Emeritus. Associated Press. 18 April 2015. Retrieved 5 April 2015. 
  13. ^ Perlez, Jane (2015-10-27). "Beijing Calls U.S. Warship's Route in South China Sea a 'Provocation'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-27. 
  14. ^ "A U.S. Naval Signal in the South China Sea". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2015-11-02. 
  15. ^ Gregory Poling. "Potential New Runway Presents New Headaches". Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Retrieved 2015-10-30. 
  16. ^ "Subi reef tracker". Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved 2016-03-05. 
  17. ^ http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/us-bombers-flew-near-chinese-built-island-in-south-china-sea-pentagon/ar-BBmWhOg?li=AAa0dzB
  18. ^ Prashanth Parameswaran (2016-04-06). "China Unveils New South China Sea Lighthouse on Subi Reef". The Diplomat. Retrieved 2016-04-24. 
  19. ^ "China conducts test flights on two new airports on Nansha Islands". Xinhua. Retrieved 2016-07-14. 

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