Leading experts and scholars from US universities and institutes came together at a workshop in Washington last weekend to discuss the convergence of marine science and geopolitics in the East Sea.

Looking at recent geopolitical developments in the East Sea, participants expressed their concerns over large-scale construction and expansion on reefs, saying this could seriously harm the natural environment and complex marine ecosystem in the sea.

John McManus, professor of marine biology and fisheries, and Director of the National Centre for Coral Reef Research at the University of Miami, highlighted the serious impacts of these efforts on the marine environment in Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago, particularly the delicate coral reefs and diverse species of animals.

Unregulated fishing in the East Sea is also alarming, he stated.

He proposed the establishment of a “Marine Peace Park” on Truong Sa, conserving the status quo and abandoning the large-scale construction of islands.

Controlling activities that impact negatively on the marine environment should also be included in the negotiation process of a Code of Conduct in the East Sea, he added.

Meanwhile, James Borton, former correspondent for the Washington Times and writing tutor at the English and Marine Science Departments at the Coastal Carolina University, said that China’s acceleration of conflicts with neighbouring countries over the East Sea could cause an environmental catastrophe, affecting the freedom of navigation and the fisheries sector, and threatening ecosystems and one of the world’s most stunning coral systems.

According to Borton, China’s reef construction and expansion project is in direct violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Furthermore, its fishing activities are damaging the natural environment in the East Sea, especially after the deployment of a fleet of up to 30 fishing vessels, including a 3,000-tonne processing ship, to the sea in 2012.

He suggested setting up a multilateral committee for a green East Sea with the involvement and support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while calling upon all concerned countries to exercise self restraint and address differences via peaceful dialogue and in line with international law.-VNA