Recent attempts by China to challenge territorial rights in the East China Sea are the latest chapters in an ongoing story of two heavily contested parts of the western Pacific Ocean. The East and South China Seas have become flashpoints for trouble between a host of neighbouring countries, and experts worry that the chances for peaceful solutions may be dwindling.
The South China Sea, which washes up against the coastlines of Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and China, contains more than 250 small islands, atolls, shoals, reefs and sandbars. While the islands and rocks themselves have no intrinsic value, Dr Ian Storey, a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said sovereignty is contested for three main reasons.
‘First of all, the issue of ownership or sovereignty has become a lightning rod for nationalists who don’t want their governments to give up their claims in the South China Sea, and this is particularly true in Vietnam and China,’ he said.