China and other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan claim part of the South China Sea. They use various historical and geographic arguments to prove and justify their claim.
China has built artificial islands in the area where it claims a “nine-dash line”. This vast area of the sea stretches to 2,000km (1,240 miles) from the Chinese mainland to the waters close to Indonesia and Malaysia. China has placed military facilities and insisted that its intentions are peaceful despite having stationed troops in the artificial islands.
Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel, known to the country as the Hoang Sa. However, to the Chinese, it is Xisha.
Vietnam also claims the same over Spratly islands, which they refer to as Nansha. Both Brunei and Malaysia claim Sovereignty over the southern parts of the sea, including some of the Spratley Islands. Taiwan has a similar claim as the Chinese mainland.
The ASEAN Tries to Avoid Clashes
The parts of the South China Sea that are in dispute are rich in oil and natural gas reserves. Aside from being rich in natural resources, it is also one of the world’s busiest waterways. Moreover, it is a vital trade route in the global supply chain.
The U.S is not a claimant, but its military conducts regular patrols. In mid-July, tensions escalated as the U.S. has said that China’s claim to almost all of the waters was “completely unlawful” under the international law of the sea. The U.S. Navy conducted drills and freedom-of-navigation operations. In response to that, the Chinese air force of the People’s Liberation Army has conducted live-fire drills in the area just this month.
Washington, U.S. has threatened to sanction officials and companies that pursued their claims in the contested waters. Although the U.S. does not officially align with any claimants, it has wide-ranging security commitments in East Asia.
It is allied with several countries bordering the sea. To avoid clashes in the disputed waters, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been working with China on an official code of conduct.
For years, a binding agreement has been discussed, but the dispute is still ongoing. In November 2018, however, China said it hoped the consultation would be completed in three years. Some have said that negotiations between Beijing and its neighbours face more uncertainty as tensions rise and that the process “could even end in a stalemate”.