Vietnam speeding up South China Sea island-building pace, US researchers say

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vietnam has been increasing its dredging and landfill work in the South China Sea, creating almost as much new land as in the previous two years combined, setting the stage for a record year of island-building, U.S. researchers said on Friday.

Since November 2023, when the Washington-based think tank issued its last report, Vietnam has created 692 new acres (280 hectares) of land, compared to 404 acres created in the first 11 months of 2023 and 347 acres in 2022, the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said in a new report.

China, which has been building islands in the South China Sea since 2013, claims sovereignty over vast swathes of it, including the areas where Vietnam has been building up islands.

The sea is one of the world's most contested waterways, where more than $3 trillion of trade passes each year. China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have lodged competing claims for some or all of the Spratly Islands.

The activity has raised fears that the area is becoming a flashpoint that could yield serious consequences in global affairs.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Rod Nickel)