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The South China Sea – Are the international borders against China’s claims?

China’s claims on the South China sea has been a hot issue in the international trading countries. South China sea is claimed by six different countries on different lines as shown in the above figure. These countries which have  separate competing claims on these waters are China, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

China has regularly backed its massive claim by building Islands and taking extensive patrolling. But countries like USA support the freedom of navigation by sending their trade ships in those waters more than once on free will. China wants to control the navigation in this sea. It wants to keep the right to grant access to other countries for sailing. But most of the countries have opposed Chinese claims and have refused to ask for permission to sail in the waters and borders of the South China sea.

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Both China and America have accused each other for exploiting military forces on this issue, thus indicating the importance of these waters in the international navigation and trade.

The two islands Paracel and Spratly in these waters have also became reason for dispute among the nations. These islands though uninhabited have large natural resources. Not much is known about them because of which they have untouched minerals, flora and fauna which could be very expensive. Although China’s assertions are  by far the largest among the six countries, it has been found by the international law authorities, more than once, that it does not have enough proofs legally to support what it claims. Since Vietnam is believed to have ruled these two islands and has documents to prove it, assertions by China are nothing but weak.

Recent arguments have been raised by Vietnam and Philippines, opposing the stands by the Chinese.

Some of them are:

  • In 1974 the Chinese forces killed more than 70 Vietnamese troops, seizing the Paracels from Vietnam.
  • In 1988 again Vietnam had to lose 60 sailors behind the Chinese patrolling.
  • In 2012 China and Philippines witnessed a standoff where both of them accused each other of intrusions in Scarborough Shoal.
  • Many sources claim that Chinese navy sabotaged two Vietnamese explorations in the South China sea.
  • In 2013 Manila filed a case against China in UN tribunal under the UN convention of the law of the seas.
  • The Chinese drilled rigs in the waters near to the Paracel Islands, leading to yet another Chinese and Vietnamese dispute.

China always prefers bilateral problem solving techniques with its colleagues, which also leads to an accusation that it uses its big land size, population and military strength to assert its demand on the fellow countries. Because of this the countries want it to negotiate with the South East nations’ committee which is Asean (comprising of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia). But China has also never followed its hearings and stands strong on what it asserts.

The Philippines thus reacted intelligently by taking China to the UN tribunal to oppose what it claims. In a decision in July 2016, the tribunal supported the Philippines case and declared that the South China sea can not be governed by the Chinese and that the claims raised have no strength on papers.

This decision was seen as a backstep in the overrated claims of China. But as usual it just raised the Chinese determination to keep a hold on these so called international waters, once again. Though the above five claiming countries (apart from China) and nations like USA support this decision of the tribunal, China still has about 70 nations by its side. Countries like Angola, Liberia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Senegal support its cause.

So yes most of the important international borders do oppose China’s claims but no matter what, the Chinese will not loose grounds on keeping the South China Sea, just yet.

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