South China Sea Dispute is dispute of both island and maritime among China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam and Phillipines. As early as 1970s these countries started claiming islands and various zones in the South China Sea. The dispute include the islands, reefs, banks and other features of the South China Sea including the Spratly island, Paracel island, Scarborough Shoal and various boundaries in the Gulf of Tankin. South China Sea has great economic, political and geo-strategic significance. One third of the World’s maritime shipping passes through it, carrying trillion ton oil etc. It carries over 3 trillion in trade each year. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the South China Sea has an estimated 11 billion barrels of untaped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In addition, sea lanes of communication in South China Sea are strategically important.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, total trade passing through the South China Sea in 2016 was $3.37 trillion as per the Council on Foreign Relations. 80 percent of China’s energy imports and 39.5 percent of China’s total trade passes through the South China Sea.
Famous journalist Robert Kaplan has called the South China Sea: “the 21st century’s defining battleground and throat of global sea routes.” The South China Sea dispute was intensified when China revealed its claim over waters of this sea in “Nine-dash line.” Nine-dash lines were marked on the map of SCS submitted by China to the UN Secretary General in 2009. The Nine-dash line encircles around 90 percent of the contested water of SCS running around as far as 2000 kilometers from mainland China.
China claims that under International Law, foreign militaries have no right to conduct intelligence gathering activities, such as reconnaissance flights in its exclusive economic zones EEZ). According to the US, claimant countries should have freedom of navigation through exclusive economic zones under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and are not required to notify claimants of military activities. In recent years, satellite images have shown that China increased efforts to reclaim land in the South China Sea by physically increasing the size of islands or creating new islands altogether. In addition, China has constructed ports, military installations, and airstrips particularly in the Paracel and Spratly islands. Further, it has militarized woody island by deploying fighter jets, cruise missiles and a radar system. According to the US Department of Defense, China created 3,200 acres of land in the Spratly island since 2013.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague issued its verdict on a claim brought against China by the Philippines under the UNCLOS. The ruling of the Court was in favor of Philippines; however, China refused to accept the Court’s authority.
In order to protect its political, security and economic interests in the region, the US has challenged China’s assertive territorial claims and land reclamation efforts by conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) and enhancing support for Southeast Asian partners. Further, Japan has sold military ships and equipment to the Philippines and Vietnam in order to improve their maritime security capacity and to deter Chinese influence.