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The South China Sea Dispute

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The South China Sea dispute is over the claimed territorial waters and exclusive economic zones generated by the territory, as well as island chains, such as the Spratlys and Paracels (mainly Spratlys), which are made up of islands, sandbanks, reefs, atolls, and rocky outcrops. The sea carries tremendous strategic importance; one-third of the world shipping passes through it carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year, it contains lucrative fisheries that are crucial for the food security of millions in Southeast Asia, and huge oil and gas reserves are believed to lie beneath its seabed.

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As the South China Sea is crucial for trade, as well as formaintaining the security of bordering Member States, the territorial disputes have repeatedly led to colliding claims of sovereignty .The five primary claimant countries which have over lappingclaims over the South China Sea are China, Phillipines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei. Claimant states are interested in retaining or acquiring the rights to fishing areas, the exploration and potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas in the seabed of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes. The claims of the parties involved in the South China Sea dispute are consisted of historical claims of discovery and occupation and also claims that rest on the extension of sovereign jurisdiction under interpretations of the provisions of UNCLOS

China bases its claim primarily on historical background. According to Chinese history, Spratley and Paracel islands were first discovered by the Chinese, some Chinese historical document describes the area as Chinese territory since as early as 300AC. However, its continuous control of the disputed area was interrupted in modern history. Chinese considers itself as avictim of the aggressions of imperialism and the conflict between superpowers, which deprives itof its historical claims. Under the current international law, China will be hard to defend its claims, thus has refrained from using legal terminology to specify its demands. On the other hand, the Chinese Congress passed a law to claim the territorial water.

Vietnam also sees the region as a historical territory as the China. Vietnam’s claim bases on the inheritance ground to prove its effective and continuous control. However, Vietnam acknowledged Chinese sovereignty over the disputed islands during its war with France and the U.S. It started its dispute China’s claim after its relations with China deteriorated in the early1970s.Malaysia’s claim of the features in southern Spratley falls inside the border of Malaysia’s continental shelf. Therefore, its claim is primary on legal ground. The Philippines bases its claim on the continental shelf. It also tries to base its claims on historical arguments. But the claims are too modern comparing to the historical claims made by China and Vietnam.

The Philippines never claimed the main island of Spratley which is outside the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines. Indonesia’s claim to the South China Sea is limited to the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf. Indonesia claims neither the Spratly nor the Paracel Islands. Brunei’s claim is based on a straight-line projection of its EEZ as stipulated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Brunei has not officially made claims neither to any reef nor to any of the Spratly islands.

Afghanistan supports China’s stance in the South China Sea Dispute. “Our Afghan counter parts expressed their gratitude for China long-term support over the years, and also said they support China position on the South China Sea issue and support China efforts to resolve the South China Sea issue through bilateral channels and through peaceful means such as negotiation and consultation,” the deputy director general of the ministry department of Asian Affairs, Hou Yanqi, told reporters. Afghanistan believes that the problem can be resolved by the parties concerned bilaterally and also thinks the dispute should be “internationalized”.

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The issue can be resolved if there are enough honest, neutral brokers involved who genuinely want to ensure peaceful co-existence among the littoral states in the South China Seas, and refrain from adding fuel to the fire.

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