South China Sea island disputes throw region on edge

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China continues to assert territorial sovereignty over islands in Southeast Asia, stirring tension among nations bordering the South China Sea, who have also staked claim.

A Japan Coast Guard vessel, top, sails along with a Chinese surveillance ship near disputed islands in East China Sea (AP Photo)
A Japan Coast Guard vessel, top, sails along with a Chinese surveillance ship near disputed islands in East China Sea. China is also engaged in disputes of islands near the Philippines and Vietnam. (AP Photo)

Beijing sent a fleet of surveillance ships to patrol waters near the Spratly Islands earlier this month while warning its neighbors to stop all oil exploration in the area.

Six countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam, dispute China’s intent of maritime conquest as estimates of huge oil and natural gas deposits are said to exist under the seabed surrounding the islands. The Asian superpower’s claim to the islands would secure not only mineral resources to help sustain its leaping growth over the past decade, but would also mean control of busy maritime rows in the region. BBC News Asia reports:

China claims a U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea, including areas also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Tensions have been high with Manila and Hanoi in recent months amid stand-offs and minor clashes around shoals and islands disputed with China.

 

U.S. President Barrack Obama attended the 20th annual Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia a few months ago, reports Katie Hunt at CNN:

During the summit, ASEAN leaders clashed publicly about how to handle a bitter territorial dispute in the South China Sea and what role the U.S. should play in resolving it.

Obama and ASEAN leaders agreed to support the drafting of a regional code of conduct to manage disputes in the sea.

China repeated its long-held position that the disputes should resolved through “consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.”

Reports of several aggressive encounters among Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen with Chinese naval patrols have proliferated negotiations to avoid a rising fear of violent conflict in the South China Sea. Reports of direct live-fire action by China have been difficult to verify by international observers. Filipino President Bengino Aquino III says a strong Japan would be an effective ‘counterweight’ to China’s rising decadence in spreading its reach south.

The territorial dispute has reached the citizens of other claimant nations with unprecedented protests in Hanoi and Manila over the years. A Chinese video game was banned in Vietnam for depicting the Spratly Islands as part of China on an in-game map.

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