The South China sea is part of the Pacific Ocean covering an area from the Karimata and the Malacca straits to the straits of Taiwan. Its been a big topic of conflicts for the past few years because of several countries claiming it as part of their territory. It is actually a very complex issue that affects the Global Economy. Let us try to understand the conflict-
One-third of the world’s shipping passes through it carrying over $3 trillion every year making it very important strategically. It is believed that a lot of oil and gas reserves are present below the seabed which remains untouched. Geographically, it is located south of China, west of the Philippines, east of Vietnam, east of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, north of the Bangka Belitung Islands and Borneo. A lot of territorial disputes have occurred over this region involving China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Both China and Taiwan claim almost all of the region as their which overlaps with the regions claimed by the other countries. The disputing claims are- The Philippines, China, and Taiwan over Scarborough Shoal, Vietnam, China, and Taiwan over waters west of the Spratly Islands, The Paracel Islands are disputed between China, Taiwan and Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam over areas in the Gulf of Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia along the Strait of Johore and the Strait of Singapore, Indonesia, China, and Taiwan over waters NE of the Natuna Islands.
The situation has become very huge with chances of direct military confrontation. China started claiming lands and even deployed drilling rigs in 2014, all these actions led to rising conflicts. China has defended itself from criticism by claiming “historic rights”, these claims were ruled invalid by an international tribunal in the “The Hague” in 2016 which China rejected.
Even western powers have gotten involved, the United States has security commitments in East Asia and is also allied with Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Also, a lot of American companies use these waterways so the US has always advocated for freedom of navigation, something which is not tolerated by China. China’s lust for power and territory is something seen to be a global threat, it has territorial disputes with all of its neighbors, most of which were conquered through force and it is even try to control Hong Kong against the wishes of their people.
Last month, when the world was fighting the coronavirus with their lives on the line, China took the chance to conduct military exercises in the South China Sea to assert its claim. To counter this, the United States also held multiple joint exercises to show China that they can’t freely do whatever they want.