Conflict In The South China Sea
At the recently concluded ASEAN talks (see notes), the world was hoping for its 10 leaders to issue a joint statement to China to resolve the territorial disputes in the region for a peaceful end to the crisis. However, no agreement could be reached because of division of opinions among the members themselves.
Let’s take a look at the history leading to the tensions.
The South China Sea
The Paracels and Spratly island chains, along with dozens of uninhabited rocky outcrops, atolls, sandbanks and reefs including the Scarborough Shoal are lands that China is calling its own. However, others nations including Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam claim these waterways and land areas belong to them.
Escalation of the conflict
In 1947, China claimed sovereignty to the largest portion of the South China Sea - about 100 miles east and south of Hainan. According to China, 2000 years ago, the Paracels and Spratly islands were a part of the Chinese nation. For the same reasons, Taiwan too claims these islands. Vietnam wants rights to these lands as it has ruled the islands since the 17th century and has documents to prove it.
According to Philippines, the Scarborough Shoal and part of the Paracels and Spratlys islands, belong to it under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) since they fall withing 200 nautical miles of its shores. The UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in the use of world’s oceans for business, environment and resources.
Further south, Malaysia and Brunei demand the rights to territorial waters that falls within their economic zones. In fact, Malaysia regards a few of the Spratly islands as its territory.
Why is every country so keen on these barren islands?
The Paracels and the Spratlys have vast reserves of natural resources. Oil and gas are the most sought after sources of energy all over the world and every country is desperately seeking it. Chinese scientists estimate that the region has about 213 billion barrels - 10 times the reserves of the US! The South China Sea is also one of the world's busiest shipping routes. Nearly 50% of world trade passes through these waters. These seas are important fishing grounds and employ thousands of people in the region.
The world is watching the area closely. China is clearly flexing its muscles. Any spark of violence could lead to prospects of war, a situation that would not be desired by anybody in the world.
Courtesy: BBC, Wikipedia