Despite Common Threat in Beijing, Other South China Sea Rivals Still Spar Among Selves


Four Southeast Asian countries and Taiwan, all of which lay claims to the contested, resource-rich South China Sea, are still grappling with incidents among themselves despite a focus on their common rival, China.

The suspected shooting deaths late last month of two Vietnamese fishermen in waters 34 nautical miles from the Philippines were a severe response to a common issue: Boats from one country test the limits of another to catch fish. But China, the most powerful claimant, is often not in the picture.

“Most fishing boats have GPS so they actually know their position and whether they’re approaching islands controlled by some other country but that they might not get caught,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the College of International Affairs at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “That’s how fishermen are.”

Gunfire was common in the 1990s

Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam claim nearly all or parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea. Since 2010, the smaller governments have focused on resisting China militarily and diplomatically. They resent its reclamation of land for artificial islands, a buildup of military infrastructure and passage of coast guard ships far from its shores.