South China Sea Dispute

The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

  • An estimated US$5 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea and many non-claimant states want the South China Sea to remain international waters.
  • To promote this, several states, including the United States, conduct “freedom of navigation” operations.

EXTENT OF DISPUTE

The disputes include the islands, reefs, banks, and other features of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, and various boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin. There are further disputes, including the waters near the Indonesian Natuna Islands, which many do not regard as part of the South China Sea. Claimant states are interested in retaining or acquiring the rights to fishing areas, the exploration and potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas in the seabed of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.

Details of the disputed areas between different countries are as follows:

  • The nine-dash line area claimed by the Republic of China, later the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which covers most of the South China Sea and overlaps the exclusive economic zone claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  • Maritime boundary along the Vietnamese coast between the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  • Maritime boundary north of Borneo between the PRC, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, and Taiwan.
  • Islands, reefs, banks and shoals in the South China Sea, including the Paracel Islands, the Pratas Islands, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands between the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and parts of the area also contested by Malaysia and the Philippines.
  • Maritime boundary in the waters north of the Natuna Islands between the PRC, Indonesia and Taiwan.
  • Maritime boundary off the coast of Palawan and Luzon between the PRC, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
  • Maritime boundary, land territory, and the islands of Sabah, including Ambalat, between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
  • Maritime boundary and islands in the Luzon Strait between the PRC, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

NINE DASH LINE

The ‘nine-dash line’ stretches hundreds of kilometers south and east of its southerly Hainan Island, covering the strategic Paracel and Spratly island chains. China buttresses its claims by citing 2,000 years of history when the two island chains were regarded as its integral parts.

ARBITRATION TRIBUNAL RULING

  • In July 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled against the PRC’s maritime claims in Philippines v. China.
  • The People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) stated that they did not recognise the tribunal and insisting that the matter should be resolved through bilateral negotiations with other claimants.

IMPORTANCE OF SOUTH CHINA SEA

The SCS is a busy international waterway, being one of the main arteries of the global economy and trade. More than $5 trillion of world trade ships pass through the SCS every year. The SCS is also resource rich, with numerous offshore oil and gas blocks.