Over 6000 thousand miles away from the shores of England lies the South China Sea; a vast body of water that is often considered perilous to navigate with its many shallow reef and rocky outcrops, not to mention over 188 incidents involving pirates reported last year. But if pirates and natural hazards weren’t bad enough, the South China Sea also has one other danger looming over it at the moment. Almost all of the major powers in South East Asia are now staring each other down from behind their respective fleets over some small islands and the waters around them that they apparently all own.
Of all the claimants, China has garnered the most public and political attention recently. For instance their nine dotted line has caused a lot of uproar on the geopolitical stage. The nine dotted line is an old document from 1947 that states China’s ownership of basically the entire South China Sea including the Scarborough Shoal despite the fact that it is just over 100 miles from the Philippines and over 500 from China.
Another thing that has thrust China into public view is their most recent act of proposing to setup an air defence zone controlled and maintained by the Chinese air force and navy over the South China Sea despite the fact that it counts as international waters has stirred up quite a ruckus with the Obama administration. Washington has even gone as far to call China’s recent behaviour at sea “tyrannical”.
…bountiful mineral deposits and oil deposits upwards of 20 trillion barrels…
What’s worse is that this recent air defence zone is just the most recent in a long line of events that have threatened to tip South East Asia into war. In 1978, the Chinese military seized the Paracels from Vietnamese hands killing about 70 Vietnamese soldiers, ten years later in ’88 Vietnam and China clashed once again but this time over the Spratyls in a naval engagement which Vietnam also lost; and in 2012 when the Philippines accused China of massing naval forces in the South China Sea the two countries engaged in an armed standoff.
But why all this trouble over a few small clusters of islands you ask. Well, these islands and waters around them are highly profitable as the South China Sea provides approximately 35 percent of the global fishery catches as of 2010 and $5 trillion in ship-borne trade along with 25 percent the world’s crude oil shipments of each year. When you couple that with the fact that they are believed to house bountiful mineral deposits and oil deposits upwards of 20 trillion barrels it is understandable why everyone wants a piece of them as any country who owned them would become economically dominant overnight; and as China continues to flex their military might in the area as their neighbours continue to engage in a sort of cold war with this military giant it is becoming more apparent by the day that almost every in the South China Sea is willing to war over these islands.