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Why is the South China Sea contentious?
(Essence from BBC News of 12 Jul 2016)
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims over
South China Sea and have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries,
but tension has steadily increased in recent years.
China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols. The US says it
does not take sides in territorial disputes, but has sent military ships and planes near disputed
islands, calling them "freedom of navigation" operations to ensure access to key shipping and
air routes.Both sides have accused each other of "militarising" the South China Sea.There are
fears that the area is becoming a flashpoint, with potentially serious global consequences.
What is the argument about?
It is a dispute over territory
and sovereignty over ocean
areas, and the Paracels and
the Spratlys - two island
chains claimed in whole or in
part by a number of countries.
Alongside the fully fledged
islands, there are dozens of
rocky outcrops, atolls,
sandbanks and reefs, such as
the Scarborough Shoal.
Why are they worth arguing over?
Although largely uninhabited,
the Paracels and the Spratlys
may have reserves of natural
resources around them. There
has been little detailed
exploration of the area, so
estimates are largely
extrapolated from the mineral
wealth of neighbouring
areas.The sea is also a major
shipping route and home to
fishing grounds that supply
the livelihoods of people
across the region.
Who claims what?
China claims by far the largest
portion of territory - an area
defined by the "nine-dash line"
which stretches hundreds of
miles south and east from its
most southerly province of
Hainan. Beijing says its right to
the area goes back centuries to
when the Paracel and Spratly
island chains were regarded as
integral parts of the Chinese
nation, and in 1947 it issued a
map detailing its claims. It
showed the two island groups
falling entirely within its
territory. Those claims are
mirrored by Taiwan.
However, critics say China has
not clarified its claims sufficiently
- and that the nine-dash line that
appears on Chinese maps
encompassing almost the entirety
of the South China Sea includes
no coordinates.
It is also not clear whether China
claims only land territory within
the nine-dash line, or all the
territorial waters within the line as
well.
Vietnam hotly disputes China's
historical account, saying China
had never claimed sovereignty
over the islands before the 1940s.
Vietnam says it has actively ruled
over both the Paracels and the
Spratlys since the 17th Century -
and has the documents to prove it.
The other major claimant in the
area is the Philippines, which
invokes its geographical
proximity to the Spratly Islands as
the main basis of its claim for part
of the grouping.
Both the Philippines and China lay
claim to the Scarborough Shoal
(known as Huangyan Island in
China) - a little more than 100
miles (160km) from the Philippines
and 500 miles from China.
Malaysia and Brunei also lay claim
to territory in the South China Sea
that they say falls within their
economic exclusion zones, as
defined by UNCLOS - the United
Nations Convention on the Law of
the Sea.
Brunei does not claim any of
the disputed islands, but
Malaysia claims a small
number of islands in the
Spratlys.
Recent flashpoints
The most serious trouble in recent
decades has flared between
Vietnam and China, and there
have also been stand-offs between
the Philippines and China. Some
of the incidents include:
 In 1974 the Chinese seizedthe ParacelsfromVietnam,killingmore than70 Vietnamese
troops.
 In 1988 the twosidesclashedinthe Spratlys,withVietnamagaincomingoff worse,losing
about60 sailors.
 In early2012, Chinaand the
Philippinesengagedina
lengthymaritime stand-off,
accusingeach otherof
intrusionsinthe
ScarboroughShoal.
 Unverifiedclaimsthatthe
Chinese navysabotagedtwo
Vietnamese exploration
operationsinlate 2012 led
to large anti-Chinaprotests
on Vietnam'sstreets.
 In January2013, Manilasaid
it wastakingChinato a UN
tribunal underthe auspices
of the UN Conventiononthe
Laws of the Sea,to challenge
itsclaims.
 In May 2014, the
introductionbyChinaof a
drillingrigintowatersnear
the Paracel Islandsledto
multiple collisionsbetween
Vietnamese andChinese
ships.
 February 14, 2016 China Deploys Missiles to Paracels
 July 12, 2016 Tribunal Rules Against China’s South China Sea Claims
 November 20, 2016 Duterte (Philippine President) Bans Fishing in Shoal Waters
 December 15, 2016 China Seizes U.S. Underwater Drone
 January 6, 2018 Collision
(A Panamanian-flagged,
Iranian-ownedtanker
carryingnatural-gas
condensate collideswiththe
CF Crystal,a Hong Kong–
flaggedcargoship carrying
grainfrom the UnitedStates
inthe East ChinaSea)
Causes Toxic Oil Spill in
East China Sea
 May 18, 2018 Chinese Bomber Lands on Island Reef
 September 30, 2018 U.S., Chinese Warships Nearly Collide
 April 5, 2019 Philippine President Alarmed by Chinese Ships
 July 3, 2019 Chinese Ship Spends Months in Vietnam’s EEZ
 February 2020 Tensions Rise in South China Sea Amid Pandemic
 May 15, 2020 Standoff Between Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese Ships Ends
 July 13, 2020 U.S.
Declares Chinese Claims
‘Unlawful’
Have they tried to reach a resolution?
China prefers bilateral
negotiations with the other
parties. But many of its
neighbours argue that China's
relative size and clout give it an
unfair advantage.
Some countries have argued that
China should negotiate with
Asean (the Association of South
East Asian Nations), a 10-member
regional grouping that consists of
Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Singapore, Brunei,
Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and
Cambodia.
However, China is opposed to this, while Asean is also divided over how to resolve the
dispute.
The Philippines has sought
international arbitration instead.
In 2013, it announced it would
take China to an arbitration
tribunal under the auspices of the
UN Convention on the Laws of
the Sea, to challenge its claims.
In July 2016, the tribunal backed the Philippines' case, saying China had violated the
Philippines' sovereign rights.
China had boycotted the proceedings, and called the ruling "ill-founded". It says it will not be
bound by it.
February 2020 Tensions Rise in South China Sea Amid Pandemic
China more aggressively asserts
its claims in the South China Sea
as countries in the region battle
the coronavirus pandemic. In
February, a Chinese naval ship
reportedly aims its weapons
control system at a Philippine
naval ship in the Spratly Islands.
The next month, China opens new
research stations, which include
defense silos and military-grade
runways, on the Fiery Cross and
Subi Reefs. In April, Vietnam
lodges a formal complaint over
China’s actions after a Chinese
vessel rams and sinks a
Vietnamese fishing boat near the
Paracels. Soon after, Beijing
establishes two administrative
districts that cover the Paracel and
Spratly Islands; the Philippines
and Vietnam denounce the move.
May 15, 2020 Standoff Between Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese Ships Ends
A nearly six-month standoff
involving Chinese, Malaysian,
and Vietnamese ships in the South
China Sea ends after a Malaysian
drillship at the center of the
dispute leaves the area. The ship
had been exploring oil and gas
fields in waters claimed by all
three countries. Chinese coast
guard ships occasionally harassed
the vessel, and Vietnamese
fishing vessels were seen nearby.
Tensions peaked in April when a
Chinese survey ship entered
Malaysia’s exclusive economic
zone. The incident prompts the
United States to send naval ships
through the waters and call on
China to end its “bullying.”
July 13, 2020 U.S. Declares Chinese Claims ‘Unlawful’
U.S. Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo issues a statement that
most of China’s claims in the
South China Sea are unlawful.
Specifically, Washington rejects
all of Beijing’s claims that extend
beyond twelve nautical miles
from Chinese shores, including in
waters off Indonesia, Malaysia,
and Vietnam. The announcement
aligns U.S. policy with the 2016
international tribunal ruling that
the Chinese claims have no legal
basis. China’s foreign ministry
says its claims are valid and
accuses the United States of
“stirring up trouble.” Earlier in the
month, two U.S. aircraft carriers
sail through the disputed waters.

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Why is the south china sea contentious

  • 1. Why is the South China Sea contentious? (Essence from BBC News of 12 Jul 2016) China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims over South China Sea and have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but tension has steadily increased in recent years. China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols. The US says it does not take sides in territorial disputes, but has sent military ships and planes near disputed islands, calling them "freedom of navigation" operations to ensure access to key shipping and air routes.Both sides have accused each other of "militarising" the South China Sea.There are fears that the area is becoming a flashpoint, with potentially serious global consequences. What is the argument about? It is a dispute over territory and sovereignty over ocean areas, and the Paracels and the Spratlys - two island chains claimed in whole or in part by a number of countries. Alongside the fully fledged islands, there are dozens of rocky outcrops, atolls,
  • 2. sandbanks and reefs, such as the Scarborough Shoal. Why are they worth arguing over? Although largely uninhabited, the Paracels and the Spratlys may have reserves of natural resources around them. There has been little detailed exploration of the area, so estimates are largely extrapolated from the mineral wealth of neighbouring areas.The sea is also a major shipping route and home to fishing grounds that supply the livelihoods of people across the region. Who claims what? China claims by far the largest portion of territory - an area defined by the "nine-dash line" which stretches hundreds of miles south and east from its most southerly province of Hainan. Beijing says its right to the area goes back centuries to when the Paracel and Spratly island chains were regarded as integral parts of the Chinese nation, and in 1947 it issued a map detailing its claims. It showed the two island groups falling entirely within its territory. Those claims are mirrored by Taiwan. However, critics say China has not clarified its claims sufficiently - and that the nine-dash line that appears on Chinese maps encompassing almost the entirety of the South China Sea includes no coordinates.
  • 3. It is also not clear whether China claims only land territory within the nine-dash line, or all the territorial waters within the line as well. Vietnam hotly disputes China's historical account, saying China had never claimed sovereignty over the islands before the 1940s. Vietnam says it has actively ruled over both the Paracels and the Spratlys since the 17th Century - and has the documents to prove it. The other major claimant in the area is the Philippines, which invokes its geographical proximity to the Spratly Islands as the main basis of its claim for part of the grouping. Both the Philippines and China lay claim to the Scarborough Shoal (known as Huangyan Island in China) - a little more than 100 miles (160km) from the Philippines and 500 miles from China. Malaysia and Brunei also lay claim to territory in the South China Sea that they say falls within their economic exclusion zones, as defined by UNCLOS - the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Brunei does not claim any of the disputed islands, but Malaysia claims a small number of islands in the Spratlys. Recent flashpoints The most serious trouble in recent decades has flared between Vietnam and China, and there have also been stand-offs between
  • 4. the Philippines and China. Some of the incidents include:  In 1974 the Chinese seizedthe ParacelsfromVietnam,killingmore than70 Vietnamese troops.  In 1988 the twosidesclashedinthe Spratlys,withVietnamagaincomingoff worse,losing about60 sailors.  In early2012, Chinaand the Philippinesengagedina lengthymaritime stand-off, accusingeach otherof intrusionsinthe ScarboroughShoal.  Unverifiedclaimsthatthe Chinese navysabotagedtwo Vietnamese exploration operationsinlate 2012 led to large anti-Chinaprotests on Vietnam'sstreets.  In January2013, Manilasaid it wastakingChinato a UN tribunal underthe auspices of the UN Conventiononthe Laws of the Sea,to challenge itsclaims.  In May 2014, the introductionbyChinaof a drillingrigintowatersnear the Paracel Islandsledto multiple collisionsbetween Vietnamese andChinese ships.  February 14, 2016 China Deploys Missiles to Paracels  July 12, 2016 Tribunal Rules Against China’s South China Sea Claims  November 20, 2016 Duterte (Philippine President) Bans Fishing in Shoal Waters  December 15, 2016 China Seizes U.S. Underwater Drone  January 6, 2018 Collision (A Panamanian-flagged, Iranian-ownedtanker carryingnatural-gas condensate collideswiththe CF Crystal,a Hong Kong– flaggedcargoship carrying grainfrom the UnitedStates inthe East ChinaSea) Causes Toxic Oil Spill in East China Sea  May 18, 2018 Chinese Bomber Lands on Island Reef  September 30, 2018 U.S., Chinese Warships Nearly Collide  April 5, 2019 Philippine President Alarmed by Chinese Ships  July 3, 2019 Chinese Ship Spends Months in Vietnam’s EEZ
  • 5.  February 2020 Tensions Rise in South China Sea Amid Pandemic  May 15, 2020 Standoff Between Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese Ships Ends  July 13, 2020 U.S. Declares Chinese Claims ‘Unlawful’ Have they tried to reach a resolution? China prefers bilateral negotiations with the other parties. But many of its neighbours argue that China's relative size and clout give it an unfair advantage. Some countries have argued that China should negotiate with Asean (the Association of South East Asian Nations), a 10-member regional grouping that consists of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. However, China is opposed to this, while Asean is also divided over how to resolve the dispute. The Philippines has sought international arbitration instead. In 2013, it announced it would take China to an arbitration tribunal under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, to challenge its claims. In July 2016, the tribunal backed the Philippines' case, saying China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights. China had boycotted the proceedings, and called the ruling "ill-founded". It says it will not be bound by it. February 2020 Tensions Rise in South China Sea Amid Pandemic China more aggressively asserts its claims in the South China Sea as countries in the region battle the coronavirus pandemic. In February, a Chinese naval ship reportedly aims its weapons
  • 6. control system at a Philippine naval ship in the Spratly Islands. The next month, China opens new research stations, which include defense silos and military-grade runways, on the Fiery Cross and Subi Reefs. In April, Vietnam lodges a formal complaint over China’s actions after a Chinese vessel rams and sinks a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracels. Soon after, Beijing establishes two administrative districts that cover the Paracel and Spratly Islands; the Philippines and Vietnam denounce the move. May 15, 2020 Standoff Between Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese Ships Ends A nearly six-month standoff involving Chinese, Malaysian, and Vietnamese ships in the South China Sea ends after a Malaysian drillship at the center of the dispute leaves the area. The ship had been exploring oil and gas fields in waters claimed by all three countries. Chinese coast guard ships occasionally harassed the vessel, and Vietnamese fishing vessels were seen nearby. Tensions peaked in April when a Chinese survey ship entered Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. The incident prompts the United States to send naval ships through the waters and call on China to end its “bullying.” July 13, 2020 U.S. Declares Chinese Claims ‘Unlawful’ U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issues a statement that most of China’s claims in the South China Sea are unlawful. Specifically, Washington rejects all of Beijing’s claims that extend beyond twelve nautical miles from Chinese shores, including in waters off Indonesia, Malaysia,
  • 7. and Vietnam. The announcement aligns U.S. policy with the 2016 international tribunal ruling that the Chinese claims have no legal basis. China’s foreign ministry says its claims are valid and accuses the United States of “stirring up trouble.” Earlier in the month, two U.S. aircraft carriers sail through the disputed waters.