Rumble Over the South China Sea
THE SOURCES: “Countering Beijing in the South China Sea” by Dana Dillon, in Policy Review, June–July 2011; “The South China Sea Is the Future of Conflict” by Robert D. Kaplan, in Foreign Policy, Sept.–Oct. 2011; “Deep Danger: Competing Claims in the South China Sea” by Marvin C. Ott, in Current History, Sept. 2011.
The South China Sea is one of the most valuable pieces of marine real estate in the world. A third of global maritime traffic passes through its sea-lanes, and its depths contain significant stores of oil and natural gas. Six of the nine countries with coastline bordering its 1.35 million square nautical miles (China and Taiwan, as well as Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia) have lodged competing claims to the sea or its manifold atolls, reefs, and small islands. The stage is set for struggle.
For much of history, the South China Sea was an “obscure afterthought,” writes Marvin C. Ott, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. That changed in 1995, when Filipino officials learned that China had built an outpost on the aptly named Mischief Reef, 120 nautical miles from Filipino territory but 600 from the closest Chinese island chain. The startling discovery came even as China was launching a wave of diplomatic efforts to demonstrate to the world that it was undertaking a “peaceful rise.” In 2002, China signed a declaration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pledging that all parties would act in good faith until competing claims to the sea were resolved.
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