Written by: David
Edited by: Mariah
Visuals by: Zoe
The South China Sea is home to one of the fiercest territorial disputes in the world. Seven different countries are vying for territory and access to the abundant marine life, busy shipping lanes, and the oil reserves hidden deep in the depths. It’s a delicate, dangerous situation that has major effects that extend not only to the Southeast Asian region but also to the rest of the world.
The territorial disputes weren’t surprising given the close proximity of countries to the sea and the United States Convention for the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. It states that a country has jurisdiction over 200 nautical miles of sea from their shores. This caused complications within the region as most of these Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) overlap with one another. An even bigger problem is China’s claim to the sea with the “Nine Dash Line”, a claim of all islands, reefs, and waters using a 9 dash diagram that roughly traces how far the claim goes and takes the territorial waters of neighboring countries.
In 2016, the Philippines won an arbitration case against China concerning the Nine Dash Line. However, China continues to ignore the arbitration, and over the years have militarized islands in the South China Sea. Pushback from other Southeast Asian countries along with the United States, who “pledged to stand with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of PRC pressure”, now puts the two sides on a standoff. From constant patrols to reconnaissance flights, both sides are gearing up for increased friction in the near future.
The situation is precarious at best, however the South China Sea’s economic and strategic importance is exemplified by how fiercely all parties are fighting for it. From the perspective of the Philippine government, they should bring more focus to the sea and act accordingly to the escalating tension. Given that China doesn’t acknowledge the arbitration win, the best scenario would be to heavily patrol the EEZ and to call out any missteps by China. As long as the Philippines isn’t the aggressor, China would be unable to continue annexing the sea.
Al Jazeera. “US Stresses South China Sea Support amid China ‘Pressure’.” South China Sea News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 28 Jan. 2021, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/28/us-backs-philippines-against-chinas-maritime-pressure.
AlJazeeraEnglish. “What’s behind the South China Sea Dispute? | Start Here.” YouTube, YouTube, 22 Nov. 2020, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f00V9MQBhg8.
Bloomberg. “The Militarization of the South China Sea.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Jan. 2021, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHCkZbBwFyM.
“The South China Sea Arbitration (The Republic of Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China).” PCA, pca-cpa.org/en/cases/7/.
“UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA.” United Nations, United Nations, http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/part2.htm.