The South China Sea is a marginal sea (a division of an ocean, partially enclosed by islands & peninsulas) that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Karimata and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometers. The area's importance largely results from one-third of the world's shipping sailing through its waters and that it is believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed (Sea floor: Bottom of the sea) It is located; South of China East of Vietnam and Cambodia West of the PhilippinesTerritorial Disputes
In the year 1947 China published a map wherein it drew a nine dash line around this sea. It then asserted that all of the area within these nine dash line is under its sovereign powers. China then began to occupy the island in the South China Sea and displace the armies of other neighboring countries. It built air bases and started to patrol the area with its army.
As a consequence the neighboring countries which include Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam started to question the validity of nine dash line claim of China. And thus, the dispute began. What complicates matters is that there are a number of Islands which different countries claim as their own. If those claims are recognized, then those countries get to claim all the resources within that island's zone as if it was part of their own country (which it would be, of course).How much of the sea belongs to a country?
The control and ownership of the oceans has long been a controversial topic. From ancient times through the 1950s, countries established the limits of their jurisdiction at sea on their own. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place between 1973 and 1982. Territorial waters
Out to 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers; 14 miles) from the baseline, the coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource. Vessels were given the right of innocent passage through any territorial waters, with strategic straits.Contiguous Zone
Beyond the 12-nautical-mile (22 km) limit, there is a further 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the territorial sea baseline limit, the contiguous zone, in which a state can continue to enforce laws in four specific areas: customs, taxation, immigration and pollution. Exclusive economic zone
An exclusive economic zone extends from the outer limit of the territorial sea to a maximum of 200 nautical miles (370.4 km; 230.2 mi) from the territorial sea baseline, thus it includes the contiguous zone. A coastal nation has control of all economic resources within its exclusive economic zone, including fishing, mining, oil exploration, and any pollution of those resources.China’s Claims
China states that it has historical claim over the sea and hence is exempted from the general rule of 12 nautical miles. In order to settle this dispute Philippines approached the Permanent Court of Arbitration or PCA which is seated in Netherlands.
After long hearings PCA ruled that China’s nine dash line has no legal basis. Its historical claim was denied and the portions of the sea which lawfully belong to Philippines was restored to it.Why so much fuss over the Sea: Its Significance
The geographic location of the South China Sea is strategically important. It links the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and is a critical shipping channel — about half the world’s merchant ships pass through it. Keeping the South China Sea open for commercial navigation is a top priority for both the United States and China. China is an export oriented economy and the safety of this busiest trade route is of paramount importance to the economic growth/ultimate survival of its economy.2. Main Sea Route
More than half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through these choke points, and a third of all maritime traffic worldwide. The oil transported through the Malacca Strait from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is triple the amount that passes through the Suez Canal.
Roughly two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 per cent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and 80 per cent of China’s crude oil imports come through the South China Sea.3. Its rich in energy reserves
Experts believe there are valuable fossil fuels in the South China Sea. The region has proven oil reserves of around 11 billion barrels & Natural gas reserves of around 266 trillion cubic feet. Eleven billion barrels is a relatively small oil reserve — at China’s current rates of oil consumption, it would only power the country for about three years. But the natural gas deposit is considerable, enough to to power China for more than 30 years at current rates, although China’s energy demands are constantly growing.4. Fishing Potential
Fishing in the South China Sea is a big business. Some estimates indicate up to 10 percent of the world’s ocean-caught fish come from the region. The industry also employs millions across the region.5. Second Strike Capability
The nature of South China Sea is a fight between China and the US over the military domination, not a fight between China and its neighbors over natural resources. Some defense analysts are of the view that the location is suitable for China to hide its strategic nuclear submarines in order to achieve “Retaliatory second strike capability”. Second strike capability is an important aspect of a country’s Nuclear Deterrence and it is a guarantor of mutually assured destruction.6. Strategic Depth
China is mostly surrounded by countries that are closer to US than to China. China doesn’t have a lot of strategic depth around its coasts. It can’t expand its influence and projection of power over Japanese islands (including their small island line stretching all the way to Taiwan) nor over Taiwan. The only part where it can expand its influence is SCS. It will give China Economic & Political Leverage.