South China Sea map – the hostile territorial dispute emerging as biggest global threat

South China Sea: Australia-China tensions discussed by expert

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China is a superpower, with the second-largest defence budget, the world’s largest navy and leading in the development of new disruptive technologies. All of this is critical for other nations as it can impact national and international security which is why NATO must respond to the rising threat China poses. examines the location and significance of the South China Sea – and why exactly it is such a hot point for global stability.

Where is the South China Sea?

The South China Sea is a marginal sea located in the Western Pacific Ocean.

The sea is bounded to the north by the shores of South China, by the Indochinese Peninsula to the west, the Islands of Taiwan and the north-western Philippines to the east and Borneo, eastern Sumatra and the Bangka Belitung Islands to the south.

These waters are incredibly important for economic and geostrategic developments, carrying more than $3 trillion each year in trade.

Huge oil and natural gas reserves are believed to lie beneath its seabed – 40 percent of global liquified natural gas trade was transitted through the South China Sea.

The region is subject to contentious territorial claims – mainly between China and other nations.

China claims almost the entire body as its own.

Competing claims include:

  • Indonesia, China, and Taiwan over waters NE of the Natuna Islands
  • The Philippines, China, and Taiwan over Scarborough Shoal.
  • Vietnam, China, and Taiwan over waters west of the Spratly Islands. Some or all of the islands themselves are also disputed between Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
  • The Paracel Islands are disputed between China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
  • Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam over areas in the Gulf of Thailand.
  • Singapore and Malaysia along the Strait of Johore and the Strait of Singapore.

Under Article 55 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the EEZ is defined as the sea area beyond the territorial sea.

Within the EEZ, the coastal state can exercise sovereign rights and sovereign powers to a limited extent.

China signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but the USA signed but never ratified the deal.

Malaysia said it summoned China’s ambassador to protest against the “presence and activities” of Chinese vessels in Kuala Lumpur’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea off the island of Borneo.

These vessels were operating off the coasts of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

A statement released late on Monday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs read: “Malaysia’s consistent position and actions are based on international law, in defence of our sovereignty and sovereign rights in our waters.

“Malaysia had also protested against the previous encroachments by other foreign vessels in our waters.”

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Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei claim parts of the South China Sea off their coasts, while China claims almost the entire area under the so-called nine-dash line that the international court ruled to be without basis in 2016.

Record numbers of military flights were undertaken near Taiwan over the past week.

China People’s Liberation Army flew 56 planes over the southwest coast of Taiwan on Monday.

This equated to a total of more than 140 military planes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone over four days in October.

A US-China clash over Taiwan and the South China Sea has emerged as one of the world’s largest geopolitical risks according to defence experts.

Both nations have huge military armies containing extensive nuclear-armed power.

Each country is likely to strive to avoid war, but with China’s rapid military rise there is a risk of miscalculation according to many experts.

China fired “carrier killer” missiles into the South China Sea in August 2020 – claiming the move was a warning its military could threaten US ships.

Over the years, Chinese diplomats have claimed a visit by an American warship could be seen as an aggressive move and warrant an attack.

Joe Biden’s administration has said it is seeking to maintain close ties with Taipei and has criticised China’s “aggressive actions” in the Taiwan Strait.

The US Government has held trade talks with Taiwan about approved arms sales and conducted naval drills in nearby waters.

But China is using the region to assert its dominance and is unlikely to kowtow to the US easily – prompting concern from the international community.

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