Chinese missiles point to islands’ real stakes


There are hundreds of disputed islands in the South China Sea, and on one of them – Woody Island, one of the Paracels – China has apparently placed surface to air missiles. China has controlled this particular island for about 60 years and says the missiles have been there for a long time; that is disputed by the US and other sources. Japan said the move was unacceptable, Vietnam called it a threat to peace.

China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei all lay conflicting claims to various sets of islands in the South China Sea, and taken as a whole the disputes have three main stakes: economic, legal and military.

Economically, there are hydrocarbons and fisheries on the table. Run-ins between the Chinese coast guard, which attempts to impose a seasonal fishing ban on the over-fished sea, and Vietnamese fishing boats often end violently.

“Ships being sunk when they were rammed by Chinese vessels, in at least one case a Chinese coastguard ship lit a Vietnamese fishing boat on fire with flares,” said Gregory Poling, Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.