The South China Sea has been an area of dispute between many countries in the region for several centuries now. However, the recent claims made by China over certain islands and territorial waters in the region has escalated these tensions to form what one can only call as a landmine waiting to explode in the form of a full blown out war in the South China Sea.
More about the disputed area
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The area of dispute in the South China Sea includes a few ocean areas as well as two island chains, the Spratlys and Paracels which are claimed by a number of countries in the region, including China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. In addition to these island chains, these countries are also competing for claims on several atolls, sandbanks and reefs in the region, including the Scarborough Shoal.
It is believed that the waters surrounding these areas may house several natural resources, thanks to the abundance of mineral wealth in the neighboring areas. The waters in this part of the sea also act as major fishing grounds and shipping routes, providing means of livelihoods for several people inhabiting the region.
Who is claiming what?
According to an ancient map it submitted at the UN, China is claiming the largest chunk of the region in the range of hundreds of miles to the east and south of its Hainan province. China asserts that the ancient map it produced shows these areas coming under its territorial control as is pointed out by a nine dash line on the map.
Taiwan on the other hand, has made the same claims as China, indicating the Paracel and Spratly island groups come under its territorial control. And then there are other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines which are also laying claims to several islands and reefs in the disputed region.
China’s recent efforts to reclaim land
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Recent satellite imagery taken over the course of the past few years has shown China trying to reclaim more land in the South China Sea. The country has been found to do this by piling sand onto reefs to increase the size of the islands or create new ones altogether. China has also constructed several military installations, ports and airstrips on these islands in order to establish its authority in the surrounding regions.
The United States attempts to thwart China’s claims
In 2015, the U.S. challenged China’s control on the disputed territory by indicating that although it does not want to take any side in the ongoing territorial dispute, it will maintain the freedom of navigation in the area to protect the access to key air and shipping routes.
It has done this by deploying military planes and ships to areas near the islands chains that are being claimed by China and the other countries. This has led to more tension in the area as both countries accuse each other of trying to establish military control in the South China Sea, something that will have serious repercussions on a global scale, including wide range military clashes between the Southeast Asian countries.
The PCA steps in to sort matters out
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The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) recently ruled in favor of the Philippines by admonishing China for claiming historic rights to the disputed islands in the South China Sea. The Tribunal also noted that China had violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines by laying claim to areas that fall within the former’s economic zone as well as interfering with regular operations like fishing and petroleum exploration in the area.
China however, has refuted the tribunal’s ruling and indicated that it will not be bound by a ruling in an international case over the areas which will give the country undisputed control in the South China Sea. Although the tribunal’s ruling indicates that China will probably step back on its military expansion in the area, there is a strong possibility for the dispute to continue as the countries in Southeast Asia continue to fight it out for control in the South China Sea.
China’s recent efforts to claim a major chunk of the South China Sea have not been received well by other countries in the region. With the U.S. sending in aircrafts and ships to keep a check on China’s military expansion in the region, tensions are expected to rise among the countries laying claims to the disputed region.