Spanning from the Singapore and Malacca straits to the Strait of Taiwan, the South China Sea is one of the world’s most hotly disputed bodies of water. China lays claim to nearly the entire sea, overlapping with the maritime claims of Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. With sovereign territory, natural resources, and national pride at stake, this dispute threatens to destabilize the region and even draw the United States into a conflict.
Exercising sovereignty over the South China Sea would be a strategic boon for China given that more than half of the world’s merchant tonnage, a third of crude oil trade, and half of liquefied natural gas trade travel through the contested waters. And, with its waxing political, economic, and military weight, China seems to be taking a harder line on the issue.