Over the past two years, China has pursued agenda to strategically grow their power by constructing fake islands in the South China Sea. The country is staking claim on islands that they have little rights to near the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brueni.
More specifically, these countries have been fighting one another for decades over who truly owns the 100 islands and reefs in the area of Paracels and the Spratlys islands. Some of the islands are substantial and support life while others are uninhabitable rocky reefs and sandbanks. But this is not stopping China. On both the inhabitable and liveable islands, China is constructing block houses out of concrete and dirt from both their mainland and by dredging for earth in the ocean below.
The Paracels and Spratyls Islands
China has made a majority of the claims in the island chain basing their rights to the islands on historical evidence. However both Vietnam and the Philippines dispute China’s stake, challenging their claim to sovereignty and historical ownership as false.Vietnam has even stated that since the 17th century, they have actually ruled over the Paracels and Spratyls islands and they have historical documents to verify this claim. In addition, both countries cite their geographical proximity to the islands and the large distance between China and the islands as enough reasoning to void China’s claims.
In fact,China only started asserting their claims in the island chain after a 1988 battle with Vietnam that took the lives of 70 Vietnamese sailors and created strained relations between the countries. Since China ramped up claims in 2012, heated debates and exchanges between the country’s respective diplomats have occurred and soured relations amongst the more powerful Chinese and the weaker Vietnamese and Filipino governments. All the while China is constructing fake islands to further their claims and has begun reaping the benefits.
Here Comes The Oil
So what does China want so badly with this part of the South China Sea? Why are they taking such drastic measures to stake their claims? The short and most concise answer is oil and natural resources. Like other super powers, China is exercising its dominance in the South China Sea to help meet its massive need for energy. And this area has what they need. Known for its large natural mineral and oil deposits, this island chain and its surrounding waters have been an international dispute waiting to happen. As China has grown over the past several decades, their middle class has expanded, as has their need for more energy resources. Thus their desire to find cheap energy sources for their fossil fuel hungry 1.3 billion and growing population has become a top priority.
But while the natural resources are appealing, China has other motivations, including gaining an advantage over the United States. Since China’s construction frenzy, the United State’s government has not acknowledged or recognized China’s claims in the island chain. And as a result, the Chinese navy is now frequently attempting to assert power and challenge the United States Pacific fleet in the South China Sea.
The Chinese Navy has ordered the United States Navy to immediately leave their waters. Their waters being the operative word.The United States and others claim the waters fall under international jurisdiction while China believes their so-called “ownership” in the island chain grants them control over the waters. This is not a trivial matter or something that should be overlooked. Not only are the Chinese telling the US Navy to vacate, but they are also disrupting American and international shipping, by cutting off shipping lanes forces ships to find alternate routes.
In addition, the South China Sea is also a fertile fishing ground for surrounding countries and China’s bullish behavior is choking off the income and livelihood of thousands of fishermen. As well, some have expressed concern about the Chinese using the sparsely inhabited islands as a military base that would enhance the strength of their air force and help grow their military might.
Regardless of China’s belligerent and forceful actions, the Philippines brought the matter to the attention of the United Nations. In response the UN created a tribunal on the situation in the island chain, but China has ignored their request to cease building and continued to pursue their own agenda.
The Chinese are the bullies of the South China Sea and they have no qualms about exercising their strategic advantage against the United States, and to put it bluntly, screwing over the smaller nations of the Philippines and Vietnam. The Chinese actions in the Paracels and the Spratlys islands and their aggressive nature in protecting their “claims” and their “waters” reflect their desire for dominance. China has lofty goals to be a world superpower and outshine the United States, and this eagerness for power through means with highly questionable international legality is something the world cannot ignore much longer.