The conflict in the South China Sea has been heating up over the past year, as neighboring countries repeatedly harass each other and argue over the ownership of the islands there.  Most notably the group of small islands called the Spratly Island Group.  Considering the amount of trade that traverses these waters, and the petroleum resources they supposedly possess, it has become a topic of contention for all the sea side Asian countries.

Now China has been building up new islands, such as the one in the photograph below.  These islands are used as military bases for jets, troops, and serve as refueling bases in an area far from the Chinese coast.


So where exactly is the disagreement?  Don’t countries know where their borders lay by now?

Well, China claims the entire South China sea and the islands because according to them, Chinese explorers were the first to discover the islands.  That’s like Spain telling us that Florida belongs to them because they wrote about it first.

Brunei claims an extended shelf from its coast, in order to claim the oil there.  Vietnam, also claims just about all the islands, proving to us one fact, that neither the Chinese nor the Vietnamese communist party is immune to greed.  The only reasonable one of the group is Malaysia, who only claims the islands within their 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, as granted to them in the charter of the United Nations.  Since Malaysia controls most of these islands, they are not usually as touchy about the subject as the others.


On the map above, you can see the islands each country controls and the islands they claim (designated by color boundaries.)  Uncolored islands are uninhabitable.  Vietnam is being slightly more reasonable than China, being that they don’t invade other countries EEZs too much, which is something even the Philippines are guilty of when they claim a few islands in the Malaysian EEZ.

So why, when most of them can somewhat agree, do they not make a deal?  Simple, China wants it all, and China can take them all in all out war.  Which is why they avoid appearing as the aggressor or even as a danger to China’s goals.  Because if China finds an excuse for war, most other powers will not be very eager to come to their allies aid, and China, will take what it wants.

Why then must they build more islands?  Because they don’t want to appear like the aggressor and have the world turn on them if they just take the islands.  Currently, Vietnam controls a lot more islands than the Chinese do, and they plan to catch up.

Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, is cracking down on dissent, but nothing curbs public uproar than justified war, and the other countries aren’t giving in.  So it might be only a short time before the South China Sea is once more, up in arms.

Then how will we ship iPods?