Several countries have made competing territorial claims over the South China Sea. Who are these parties and what are the reasons for the disputes? Discuss.

South China Sea is part of Pacific Ocean with eight littoral countries / territories viz. China, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam. The region has remained under territorial and jurisdictional claims, particularly over rights to exploit the region’s extensive reserves of oil and gas and to maintain control over one of the busiest trade naval route of the world.
The reasons are more of strategic and economic in natures, such as:

  • The sea is one of the primary routes for international trade
  • It is important energy route for East Asian countries from Persian Gulf.
  • Around one-third of world’s shipping passes through its waters.
  • The Paracels and the Spratlys are considered to have large reserves of natural resources beneath their seabed.
  • The sea is also home to fishing grounds.

China claims 80% of the region; Taiwan’s claim is as extensive as Chinas’; Vietnam claims it on the basis that it ruled over it since 17th century; Phillipines claims on its geographical proximity with Spratley island; Malaysia and Brunei’s claim that the area in South China Sea falls within their economic exclusion zones and Malaysia claims a small number of islands in the Spratleys.
Ultimately it zeroes down to economic and strategic interests all the countries have in this region and therefore are claiming their rights over it.

Question for UPSC Mains:
Several countries have made competing territorial claims over the South China Sea. Who are these parties and what are the reasons for the disputes? Discuss.

Published: March 17, 2016 | Modified:October 15, 2020

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