South China Sea Dispute


With an extension of 3.63 million square kilometers, the South China Sea is of great importance for two main reasons. On one hand, it possesses extensive amounts of food and a seabed resources that contains 11 billion barrels of oil as well as 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. But, on the other hand, it has also become a crucial route through which around a third of the world’s shipping, equivalent to a total of US$5.3 trillion in annual trade, transits.

This explains the interest of the six Asian countries, including China, who are currently claiming the ownership of the small land features within the South China Sea and it is why, nowadays, this sea is one of the most dangerous hotspots in the world.  However, this dispute is by no means new. In fact, according to the Tønnesson (2001), it started in the decade of 1930 and since then, it has had two particular periods (1994-1997 and 2009-now), when tensions have escalated significantly.

Such a current rise in tensions, together with the multiplicity of actors, the importance of the natural resource at stake and new developments in the dispute like the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration decision to rule out China’s claims over Scarborough Shoal in favor of the Philippines in 2016, make the South China Sea dispute the most important. 

As an important strategic area both politically and economically, the South China Sea dispute is not only a contestation over the national territory, but it is also linked to the untapped natural resources stored underneath it. The huge interests have made it difficult for the six involved countries to give in, which has resulted in a perpetuating tension until today.

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