It is hard to turn on the television today or read the news on your tablet and not see something related to the South China Sea. The region is home to one of the hottest land grabs at the moment, as countless nations in the area make claims and counterclaims over territory in the South China Sea. At the root of the problem are historic borders that date back over the course of a thousand years or more.
The major source of conflict is not the water itself, but rather, the minerals known to exist beneath the waves. The waters in the area contain large amounts of untapped oil reserves and natural gas that nations throughout Asia and Southeast Asia need to power their consumer-driven economies. More wealth in the hands of average people and increased buying power means more vehicles, more homes, and a greater need for energy to meet those demands. The following map and explanation will help you better understand the situation.
Meet the Major Players
There are six major players in the battle over water and small islands in the South China Sea, with Japan serving as a minor player in a smaller battle over uninhabited islands claimed by itself and China over the East China Sea. However, the major players in this specific region are China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
China has made the largest claim in the region, claiming territorial rights to waters throughout the region right up to national sea borders with most of its neighbors. In the case of every nation involved, there are claims that overlap one of its neighbors, adding tension to the situation.
The emerging nation of Vietnam has the second largest territorial claim in the region, stretching out toward and around the island of Hainan, China, and deep into the South China Sea. Its territorial claim overlaps a portion of those made by Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The split nation of Malaysia makes claims in the western stretches of the South China Sea that stand uncontested, but much of its other claims overlap those of Brunei, a portion of Vietnam’s, and a small slice of that made by the Philippines.
This tiny nation along the coast of the South China Sea is landlocked on three sides by Malaysia, and as such its territorial claims in the region are all but covered by those made on behalf of Malaysia. However, Brunei’s claims also stretch into those made by Vietnam and China.
The large claim made by the Philippines crosses minor portions of those made by Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, but the true source of angst in this case is with China. Almost all of the territorial claims made by the Philippines are overlapped by Chinese claims.
As mentioned earlier, China’s claims in the region stretch up to the national sea borders of all nations in questions, and in many cases almost completely encompass the claims made by the other combatants in the situation. China is using its economic and military might to bully these nations into capitulating, but the situation is not cut and dry.
This region is a flashpoint of global significance because, for starters, the United States is treaty bound to come to the defense of the Philippines, creating tension between the world’s two biggest economies and militaries. The next time you see this issue on the nightly news, you’ll have a better understanding of the tensions gripping the region.