Chinese island building in the South China Sea: The case of Hong Kong

Authors: Mia Bennett*,
Topics: China, Political Geography, Marine and Coastal Resources
Keywords: Hong Kong, China, infrastructure, geopolitics, materiality, South China Sea
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Chinese government’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea attracts significant scrutiny. So, do the government’s interventions in Hong Kong, both material and legal – from the construction of megaprojects like the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the West Kowloon high speed railway station opened in 2018, to the National Security Law introduced in 2020. Yet little has been done to theoretically or empirically connect twinned processes of materio-legal accumulation and erosion in the South China Sea and in Hong Kong despite evident linkages and the expansion of island building involving Chinese actors across maritime Asia, from Hong Kong’s “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” encompassing 1700 hectares of land reclamation to continued construction in the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Drawing on expert interviews and analysis of policy and commercial documents, I interrogate the connections between areas on China’s fringes which Beijing seeks to “shore up” through the lens of dredging and land reclamation technologies. While Hong Kong has traditionally been an industry leader, mainland China is increasingly dominant. Subsidiaries of state-owned enterprises like CCCC, which leads the construction of artificial islands on rocks, reefs, and shoals around the Spratly Islands, were awarded the main contract for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and will undertake land reclamation for Hong Kong International Airport’s planned third runway. While one objective of China’s South China Sea island building is ostensibly to legitimize and extend sovereignty claims, in Hong Kong, such processes may serve to undermine the separation of the territory’s legal system from the Mainland.

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