China's (Mis)claim Of South China Sea

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China's (mis)Claim of South China Sea

China's (mis)Claim of South China Sea


The South China Sea is a sea of about 3.5 million kilometers extending from the Singapore Strait to the Strait of Taiwan. The South China Sea is bordered by China, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Brunei and Vietnam. The South China Sea bears much significance for international trade and shipping as nearly one-third of the global shipping transits through the South China Sea on the route between Europe and the Middle East to East Asia. The area is also important for other factors such as fisheries and other mineral resources. It is also believed that there are huge gas and online resources waiting to be tapped beneath the seabed. However, there is no exact estimate available regarding the extent of gas and oil reserves resting in that area.

The dispute in the South China Sea is primarily related to two groups of islands and surrounding waters on which different states claim territorial sovereignty. The first group of disputed islands is known as Paracel Islands, which are situated in the South China Sea's northeast near the Vietnamese cost and Hainan island, which is under the administration of the China. The second group of disputed islands is located off the costs of Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia, which have been claimed, in part or in whole, by the Philippines, Brunei, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia have partial. These islands are known as Spratly Islands and comprise of nearly 150 tiny islands, islets, reefs and shoals (Fravel, 2008, pp. 14-43).

The Paracel Islands have been under the control of China since 1974, while Vietnam and Taiwan also have territorial claims over the islands. It is pertinent to mention here that merely 40 percent of features of Spratlys qualify the criteria of being declared as island by the UNCLOS, which was ratified in 1982. According to the UNCLOS, an area could be declared an island if it is piece of land formed naturally over the waters at high tide (United Nations, 1982, pp. 23-64, 95).

This paper is aimed at presenting the background and nature of dispute in the South China Sea and critically analyzing different opinions in the light of the international law for the purpose of assessing the legality of China's claim of islands and surrounding waters in the South China Sea.


The dispute over islands and waters in South China Sea generates, like other similar disputes regarding the claims of territorial sovereignty, feelings of nationalism among the disputing parties. The islands, reefs and surrounding waters hold strategic importance for the international community as they are located near the vitally significant routes that are frequently used for international trade. Moreover, this area is also seen to have great sources of wealth in the form of abundant fisheries resources and untapped oil and gas reserves in the waters surrounding the islands.

The rules and provisions of international law dealing with the attainment and loss of territorial sovereignty over islands, waters and land territory can be found ...
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