President Xi, and his bid for the South China Sea


The Disputing Claims in the Sea

Arav Wahi

Despite a global pandemic closing almost every country’s economy to some extent, there are still major issues that are going on in the South China Sea. The South China Sea territorial dispute is an ongoing dispute between many Southeast Asian countries along with the People’s Republic of China. The dispute is not for sheer land, but it is for resources under it. The South China Sea has an estimated 11 billion barrels of crude oil, 109 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 10% of the world’s fish stock, and 30% of global shipping trade routes. The resource-rich waters that have never had a consensus about exact borders so each country lays its respective claim. While most countries lay claim based on the UN Law of the Sea, which gives countries 200 nautical miles of more land which is exclusively theirs to drill oil, fish, and ship through, China’s claims span 80% of the sea, overlapping with almost every country. Their claims are all because of the Spratly Islands, an archipelago of over 100 islands, islets, and cays. Beijing lays claim to these islands based on strategies that might give them the edge after almost 50 years of disputes. Beijing’s master plan that is to date still under progress is building military bases on the Spratly Islands so their claims strengthen while the other country’s claims become weaker. While confusing, China is proving their presence in the South China Sea directly while other countries are disputing their maritime borders are their claims to the sea.


 Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines hold true claims to the islands as they fall in their 200 nautical miles, but still have to make ports, buildings, and settle people on the islands to back claims.  China continues to dominate the South China Sea because of its naval tactics such as ‘The Cabbage Strategy.’ China surrounds a contested island with as many ships as possible. An example is in 2013 when China sent many ships to Ayungin Shoal, an island 100 miles off the coast of the Philippines. The Chinese sealed off the access to the island with the Cabbage Strategy. The island will eventually run out of supplies, and China will be there to take control of the island, build another naval base to support more ships, and continue the process until they have full control. The People’s Liberation Army Navy does this in small steps taking contested islands, but all in small steps to prevent a bigger conflict from arising. Despite these precautions, Chinese navy ships have arrested many for trespassing into their waters and threatened to make an air identification zone above the sea to only allow parties permitted by China to fly over it. 

One might ask “Why doesn’t the US take action and stop China from doing it?” It is not entirely easy. The US has vaguely made statements insisting for China to reach settlements with the other countries but has not taken more action. This is because they are in a dilemma of sorts with the dispute. On one hand, China is a major manufacturer, and going against them will prove to be difficult for the US, and bad for the economy. Another major factor is that China is a growing superpower with an economy expected to eclipse that of the US by 2030. On the other hand, if the US sides with China, they are going against their own allies and will cause even more tensions and issues to arise. Pan to nowadays, under the Trump Administration tensions, have risen with China. This is good, as both the US and China are being kept in control, but it has impacted the economies of the countries and increased unease in the region. Beijing is hoping for a Biden win which will also be good and bad as there will be an ease in tensions in the region, but China will start to feel more powerful in the region. Regardless of who wins the presidency, the South China Sea disputes don’t look to be going anywhere, but how it can be contained and dealt with depends on how the US and other countries disputing the area negotiate or have a lack thereof.