Above is a picture of Fiery Cross Island, a coral reef subject to a land reclamation process by the Chinese Government, it lies in the South China Sea, a region currently involved in grave tensions between multiple nations, including the USA and China. The above island lies outside China’s nautical territory, and thus invites outrage from multiple nations but what makes it truly special is the fact that six years ago, it didn’t exist.
This island doesn’t stand alone, it has six more companions, built by the Chinese Government in a place in the South China Sea called the Spratly islands, which lie closer to the Philippines than they do to the Chinese mainland. Moreover, China is not the only claimant in the heavily disputed region, six other countries, including the Philippines and Malaysia, lay claim to some part of the South China Sea. Why does this body of water attract so much attention, it’s rich, RICH, in resources such as oil and natural gas, it has various types of fish species along with heavy numbers and also contains key ports that give nations access to a market of 2.2 billion people. Also, almost a third of international trade passes through here, Giving nations with access to the South China Sea an unimaginable economic power. Most nations on the circumference of the sea use the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as a basis for their claim. However, China states it has a historical claim over the South China Sea, using maps dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries to formulate a claim over the region, ignoring claims put forward by other nations, it calls the boundary of its claimed territory the nine-dash line, and it encompasses almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring the Exclusive Economic Zones of other states.
The South China Sea isn’t just a zone for extreme tensions, its important in the modern world, the United States of America, on one side, don’t want to risk provoking China but have to protect their long-standing ally, the Philippines. Russia too wants to honour its alliance with China by backing up Chinese Claims, but also wants to ensure some victories for its military ally, Vietnam.
“Look what they’re doing [The Chinese], they’re building a massive fortress against everything. A massive fortress in the South China Sea and yet they’re ripping us off” – Donald Trump, P.O.T.U.S
In all, this crisis has attracted some of the biggest players in the modern, international setup. Steve Bannon, a Former White House Chief Strategist, has already declared that the USA will go to war over the South China Sea in about another decade or so. Any country with access to the South China Sea gets to connect the markets of South Asia and the Middle Eastern economic hubs. If China gets the sea, it could be the first step to becoming not the second global superpower, but the first hyperpower. If the Philippines gets a portion of the Sea, tensions could grow between USA and China, maybe outside trade too.
“We do not need countries outside the region finger-pointing on this issue, let alone making any ignorant remarks” – Yang Yujun, Chinese Ministry of national defense
The South China Sea dispute is a complex problem, with complex solutions.