The evolution of man-made islands

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The evolution of man-made islands

The author is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In 1636, an artificial island named “Dejima” was created in Nagasaki, Japan. The fan-shaped quarantine space as large as two soccer fields was built to ban Christian missionary work. In the beginning, the island’s primary purpose was to hold the Portuguese travelers for easier management. But when a large-scale uprising was organized by Christians in 1637, the Portuguese were expelled from the small man-made island.

In 1639, Dutch trading companies settled on the artificial island. The Edo shogunate granted trade monopoly to the Netherlands in 1641. The conditions were to “only stay in Dejima and provide reports on the global situation regularly.” Until the United States forcibly opened Japanese ports in 1854, Dejima was the only venue for trade and exchanges with the West. Many analyses claim that Japan could be the first to pursue modernization in Asia thanks to the existence of Dejima.

In places with limited available land, such as Hong Kong and Macau, construction of artificial islands have been active. Macao reclaimed the water between two islands — Taipa and Coloane — to create the Cotai Strip in which casinos and hotels were built. Hong Kong plans to build the world’s largest artificial island — the size of 1,300 soccer fields — in the southeast sea off Lantau Island. The goal is to build housing for 1.1 million people to ease the city’s chronic housing shortage.

Sometimes, artificial islands are created by filling rocks in the open sea with concrete. When it is recognized as an island, 12 nautical miles of the surrounding area is recognized as territorial waters. And the waters within 200 nautical miles is considered an exclusive economic zone.

Japan poured concrete on the Okinotori Reef, 1,740 kilometers (1,081 miles) south of Tokyo, and made an artificial island. After Japan seized a Taiwanese fishing boat operating nearby in 2016, territorial dispute escalated.

Since 2014, China has been building artificial islands around the South China Sea. John Aquilino, the commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, publicly shared that the militarization of three artificial islands off the Spratly Islands — called “Nansha Qundao” in Chinese — was complete. He claimed that they are military bases with missile arsenals, aircraft hangars and barracks.

If military tension surrounding the artificial islands in the South China Sea escalates, Korea may also be affected. 100 percent of petroleum imported from the Middle East comes through the South China Sea. Korean diplomatic authorities need to make every effort to prepare for the looming new Cold War era.
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