Territorial disputes in the South China Sea

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Territorial disputes in the South China Sea involve six sovereign states within the region, namely the:

The Spratly and Paracel archipelago are two groups of largely uninhabited islands located within the South China Sea, which are subject to a complex territorial dispute involving the surrounding countries. The interests of different nations include acquiring fishing areas around the two archipelagos, the exploitation of crude oil and natural gas beneath the Spratly Islands, and the strategic control of a core position. Along with territorial land claims on the islets, the disputes also involve the territorial waters of the various countries within the region. The nine-dotted line drawn by China which marks its claim covers around three-fourths of the total area of the South China Sea.



Maritime claims in the South China Sea
Baselines and competing EEZ claims in East and Southeast Asia. Note the amount of overlap in the disputed South China Sea, the Spratlys in particular.

The area is potentially rich in oil deposits. The Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining of the People's Republic of China estimate that the South China Sea may contain 17.7 billion tons of crude oil (compared to Kuwait with 13 billion tons). In the years following the announcement by the ministry, the claims regarding the South China Sea islands intensified.[1] However, other sources claim that the proven reserve of oil in the South China Sea may only be 7.5 billion barrels, or about 1.1 billion tons.[2] The South China Sea is dubbed by China as the "second Persian Sea."[3] The state-owned China Offshore Exploration Corp. planned to spend 200 billion RMB (US$30 billion) in the next 20 years to exploit oil in the region, with the estimated production of 25 million metric tons of crude oil and natural gas per annum, at a depth of 2000 meters within the next 5 years.[4]

On March 11, 1976, the first Philippine oil company discovered an oil field off Palawan Island (island within the South China Sea belonging to the Philippines). These oil fields supply 15% of annual oil consumption in the Philippines.

The nine-dotted line was originally an "eleven-dotted-line," first indicated by the then Kuomintang government of the Republic of China in 1947, for its claims to the South China Sea. After, the Communist Party of China took over mainland China and formed the People's Republic of China in 1949. The line was adopted and revised to nine as endorsed by Zhou Enlai, who stipulated that "In the 1960s and 1970s, according to the spirit of the relationship of comrades and brothers, in order to make the Vietnamese Government can effectively fight against imperialism, allow the Vietnamese building up radar stations and other military facilities, eleven-dotted-line changed to nine-dotted-line.[citation needed]"

The legacy of the nine-dotted line is viewed by some Chinese government officials, and by the Chinese military, as providing historical support for their claims to the South China Sea.[5]

Following World War II, Chinese exercise of sovereignty over the South China Sea region, the Spratly and Paracel archipelago and their adjacent waters was relatively uncontested. The United States and Spain had not included the Spratly Islands within the territorial limits of the Philippines in the Washington Treaty of 1898 and the Treaty of Paris in 1900. This understanding was reinforced by the 1973 Philippine Constitution, which followed the signing of the 1951 Philippine-US military alliance. In 1975, Vietnam explicitly recognized China's territorial sovereignty over The Spratly archipelago, and before December 1978 the Malaysian published continental shelf map did not include the reefs and waters of the Spratly archipelago in Malaysian territory.

In the 1970s however, the Philippines, Malaysia and other countries began referring to the Spratly Islands as included in their own territory. On June 11, 1978, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines issued Presidential decree No. 1596, declaring the Spratly Islands (referred to therein as the Kalayaan Island Group) as Philippine territory.[6]

The abundant fishing opportunities within the region are another motivation for the claim. In 1988, the South China Sea is believed to have accounted for 8% of world fishing catches, a figure that has grown since then. There have been many clashes in the Philippines with foreign fishing vessels (including China) in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. China believes that the value in fishing and oil from the sea has risen to a trillion dollars.

The area is also one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. In the 1980s, at least 270 merchant ships used the route[clarification needed] each day. Currently, more than half the tonnage of oil transported by sea passes through it, a figure rising steadily with the growth of Chinese consumption of oil. This traffic is three times greater than that passing through the Suez Canal and five times more than the Panama Canal.

Current situation

Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and other countries claim the reefs within the Chinese nine-dotted line are unpopulated reefs.[citation needed] The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which came into effect on November 16, 1994, resulted in more intense territorial disputes between the parties.

As of 2012, only nine of the Spratly Islands are under Chinese control, with Mainland China accounting for eight and Taiwan accounting for one; Vietnamese troops have seized the greatest number of islands, 29. Eight islands are controlled by the Philippines, five by Malaysia, and two by Brunei.[citation needed] The Indian Ambassador to Vietnam, while expressing concern over rising tension in the area, said that 50 per cent of its trade passes through the area and called for peaceful resolution of the disputes in accordance with international law.[7]

2011 agreement

On July 20, 2011, the PRC, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, the ROC and Vietnam agreed to a set of preliminary guidelines which would help resolve the dispute.[8] The agreement was described by the PRC's assistant foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, as "an important milestone document for cooperation among China and ASEAN countries".[8] Some of the early drafts acknowledged aspects such as "marine environmental protection, scientific research, safety of navigation and communication, search and rescue and combating transnational crime," although the issue of oil and natural gas drilling remains unresolved.

Chinese objection to Indian naval presence and oil exploration

On July 22, 2011, the INS Airavat, an Indian amphibious assault vessel on a friendly visit to Vietnam, was reportedly contacted 45 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast in the disputed South China Sea by a party identifying itself as the Chinese Navy and stating that the ship was entering Chinese waters.[9][10] A spokesperson for the Indian Navy explained that as no ship or aircraft was visible, the INS Airavat proceeded on her onward journey as scheduled. The Indian Navy further clarified that "[t]here was no confrontation involving the INS Airavat. India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the right of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law. These principles should be respected by all."[9]

In September 2011, shortly after China and Vietnam signed an agreement seeking to contain a dispute over the South China Sea, India's state-run explorer, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) said that its overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh Limited, had signed a three-year agreement with PetroVietnam for developing long-term cooperation in the oil sector, and that it had accepted Vietnam's offer of exploration in certain specified blocks in the South China Sea[11] In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, without referring to India by name, stated as follows:

“China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island. China's stand is based on historical facts and international law. China's sovereign rights and positions are formed in the course of history and this position has been held by Chinese Government for long. On the basis of this China is ready to engage in peaceful negotiations and friendly consultations to peacefully solve the disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights so as to positively contribute to peace and tranquillity in the South China Sea area. We hope that the relevant countries respect China's position and refrain from taking unilateral action to complicate and expand the issue. We hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve the bilateral disputes through bilateral channels. As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China's jurisdiction. We hope the foreign countries do not get involved in South China Sea dispute.”[12][13]

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman responded, “The Chinese had concerns, but we are going by what the Vietnamese authorities have told us and [we] have conveyed this to the Chinese.”[12] The Indo-Vietnamese deal was also denounced by the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times.[11][13]


In Spring 2010, Chinese officials reportedly communicated to U.S. officials that the South China Sea is "an area of ‘core interest’ that is as non-negotiable" and on par with Taiwan and Tibet on the national agenda.[14] but may have backed away from that assertion in 2011.[15][16][17]

In October 2011, China's Global Times newspaper, published by the Communist Party, People's Daily, editorialized on South China Sea territorial disputes under the banner “Don't take peaceful approach for granted”. The article referenced recent incidents involving Philippines and South Korea detaining Chinese fishing boats in the region.[18]

If these countries don't want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons. We need to be ready for that, as it may be the only way for the disputes in the sea to be resolved.

Global Times (China), 25 October 2011

Responding to questions about whether this reflected official policy, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated the country's commitment “to resolving the maritime dispute through peaceful means.”[19]

Oil development

Vietnam and Japan reached an agreement early in 1978 on the development of the South China Sea oil cooperation. Since then, Vietnam and more than 50 foreign oil companies signed oil exploration and development contract about over 30, Vietnam is still the Xisha and Nansha Islands in illegal oil bidding more than 120. The title of "White Tiger" oil field in the South China Sea in 1986 officially put into operation, which began the year by year growth in crude oil production in Vietnam so far, only the "White Tiger" oil field, has cumulative production of over 2000 tons of crude oil, earning $ 25 billion.In 2009, Vietnam and the title of "The Bear", "Dragon" and "Dragon" three oil fields also have been put into these fields in the South China Sea, intermittent line. Vietnam was once the oil-poor country, now oil production up to nearly 2,000 tons, became the oil-exporting countries. The oil has become one of the most exported products in Vietnam, the proportion of GDP has exceeded 30%.

China's first independently designed and constructed oil drilling platform in the South China Sea, Ocean Oil 981 (海洋石油981), began its first drilling operations in 2012. The platform is located 320 kilometres southeast of Hong Kong, and contains 160 employees.[20]



In 1939, Japan invaded and occupied the South China Sea islands. 1946 according to the "spirit of the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation, China Ministry of the Interior in conjunction with the Department of the Navy and the Guangdong provincial government to appoint Xiao Yin and Mak Yun Yu, Commissioner for The Spratly and Paracel archipelago, went to take over The Spratly and Paracel archipelago, build up the sovereignty of the monuments.[citation needed]

In 1952 according to "Treaty of Peace with Japan", the Spratly and Paracel archipelagobe were returned to China[citation needed]

In 1956, Taiwan's navy has dispatched the prestige fleet, the Weiyuan fleet and the Ning fleet to patrol the Spratly Islands.Cruise process, in the Pacific Island, South Island, West Tsukishima heavy tree monument, held a flag raising ceremony, and adapted for the "Nansha garrison" reassignment Marines to protect Pacific Island

In 1975, the Taiwan authorities claim the only legitimate sovereign of the Spratly. For the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, successively seized the Spratly Islands.[citation needed]

January 28, 2000, the establishment of the Coast Guard Administration to take over the Pacific Island

In 2012, Taiwan rejected a pan-Chinese approach of coordinating with the PRC in asserting claims to the South China Sea.[21]



In 1974, after the outbreak of the Paracel Islands naval battle with Vietnam (South Vietnam), the Paracel Islands were placed under the jurisdiction of Hainan.

In the 1988 Johnson South Reef Skirmish with Vietnam, China took seven Spratly Islands.

In 1997, China reaffirmed the U-shaped area in the South China Sea as Chinese territorial waters and Chinese sovereignty over of all reefs within the area.[citation needed]




“China’s systematic action is aimed at turning the undisputed area belonging to Vietnam into an area under dispute in order to materialize China’s nine-dotted line claim in the East Sea. This is unacceptable”

—Vietnamese spokeswoman Pham Phuong Nga, following the June 9th incident


Dongguan aground on the Half Moon Shoal.

U.S.-China Relations

China and the United States are currently in disagreement over the U.S.’s policy of operating military ships and planes in the South China Sea. This disagreement is exacerbated by the fact that the U.S. is not a member of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Nevertheless, the U.S. has stood by its maneuvers, claiming that “peaceful surveillance activities and other military activities without permission in a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” is allowed under the convention. Additionally, a South China Sea free to access is in the U.S.’s economic and geopolitical interests. Although the U.S. is not a party to the dispute, should China achieve exclusive rights to the sea, the U.S. will have to base access to the waterways on the willingness of permission of China, not UNCLOS. Given U.S. desire to maintain its position as a top Asia-Pacific power, succumbing to Chinese pressure is an undesirable position. In relation to the dispute, Secretary Clinton voiced her support for fair access by reiterating that “freedom of navigation and respect of international law” is a matter of national interest to the United States. Her comments were countered by China’s Foreign Minister as “in effect an attack on China,” and warned the United States against making the South China Sea “an international issue or multilateral issue.”

Clinton subsequently testified in support of congressional approval of the Law of the Sea Convention, which would strengthen U.S. ability to support countries that oppose Chinese claims to certain islands in the area. On May 29, 2012, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed concern over this development, stating that "non-claimant Association of South East Asian Nations countries and countries outside the region have adopted a position of not getting involved into territorial disputes." [61] In July 2012, the United States Senate passed resolution 524, initially sponsored by Senator John Kerry, stating (among other things) the United States' strong support for the 2002 declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea, reaffirms the United States' commitment to assist the nations of Southeast Asian to remain strong and independent, and supports enhanced operations by the United States armed forces in the Western Pacific.[62]

See also


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  3. ^ 南海经济国防意义皆重要 誉称“第二个波斯湾”_新闻_腾讯网
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Further reading

External links