Fight to control the South China Sea


The South China Sea has been presenting a score of geopolitical issues that have been denting China-US relations. This piece of international waters, situated on the east of Vietnam, west of the Philippines and on the south of mainland China, does not come under China’s territory but Beijing has been exercising its powers to control it.

This geopolitical problem gained friction when China began building artificial islands in the South China Sea and took under its territory a major piece of the sea, which it separated with the Nine-Dash Line. This is a made-up line by China, also seen on the world map, which signifies the area in the South China Sea under China’s controls. However, the US has opposite thoughts, as Washington claims that the South China Sea is part of international waters and China has no right to govern any part of it. The United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) advocates similar rules that no country has any control on a region of high tide.

Even if China is violating a rule by the UNCLOS, it will not step back and lose control of the South China Sea. Moreover, China views this region as a significant trade route for a number of reasons. First, China’s oil imports arrive from this route and, second, the South China Sea is a bargaining chip for China as it — in desperate times of war — can interrupt trade shipments arriving or departing from this region. If something of this sort happens, then China can also show the red signal to any US shipment following this route. Although the South China Sea provides China with a trade route monopoly, it also gives Beijing natural resources to explore and extract since the seabed has abundant reserves of oil and gas. China’s plotting of the Nine-Dash Line could be an attempt to secure all mineral resources and to keep them away from the reach of other countries.

Moreover, international eyes are on China for it is constructing artificial islands in the South China Sea. Most of them are for defence purposes as China has placed military arsenal on them. The US, therefore, is trying its best to free this region of China’s dominance and to assert freedom of navigation, which China has disrupted. However, it may also put China in hot water as the US views China’s actions as being akin to Russia’s occupation of Crimea. This comparison, however, does not bode well with China-US relations as now the rift between these two countries might send them into a higher level of disagreement. Moreover, the US’ concerns are growing over China’s occupation of the South China Sea because satellite imagery hints that one of China’s man-made islands has a runway strip. This accentuates the possibility of China constructing a military base over it.

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China, South China Sea Dispute, Philippines, USA, Spratlys, Artificial Islands, Reclamation, Regular Patrols, Military Conflict, Militarization, ADIZ, Air Defense Identification Zone