Satellite images showing the extent of land reclamation of China and Vietnam in South China Sea have sparked debates about who the biggest aggressor is and what the status quo is (see: “Who Is the Biggest Aggressor in the South China Sea?,” “Who Is the Biggest Aggressor in the South China Sea? (A Rejoinder),” and “The South China Sea: Defining the ‘Status Quo’“).
To be specific, concept of “aggression” is mentioned in the Resolution 3314 of United Nations General Assembly on the 14th of December, 1972. Aggression is the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations. The aggressed Nation has the right to defend itself.
The recent land reclamation work in South China Sea is tied closely to the issue of sovereignty claims. Historical evidence proves that Vietnam has been the first state to have administration over the Spratly and Paracel Islands dating back to at least the 17th century. China, by contrast, only took interest in the Paracels in 1909 and claimed them as the southern terminus of its land in 1932. China was also the last country to set foot in the Spratlys in 1988 after using force to shoot down three Vietnamese ships and brutally massacring 64 Vietnamese without any weapons in their hands. The Philippines took interest in Spratlys at the end of 1950s, while Malaysia was attending to the southern part of these islands in 1980s.
The first step that any sovereign state which has gotten attacked by force would take is reinforcing its garrisons to prevent any violation of its sovereignty. In 1988, Vietnam increased its troops on 21 features in the Spratlys and clearly informed the world that it was doing so. The Philippines has stationed troops on 8 features, China on 9, and Taiwan on 1. Malaysia has increased its occupation from 3 in 1980 to 5 features in 1999.