Territorial disputes in the South China Sea

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Map showing territorial claims in South China Sea
Maritime claims in the South China Sea

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

There are disputes concerning both the Spratly and the Paracel islands, as well as maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin and elsewhere. There is a further dispute in the waters near the Indonesian Natuna Islands.[1] The interests of different nations include acquiring fishing areas around the two archipelagos; the potential exploitation of suspected crude oil and natural gas under the waters of various parts of the South China Sea; and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.

Shangri-La Dialogue serves as the "Track One" exchange forum on the security issues surrounding Asia-Pacific region including Territorial disputes in the South China Sea.[2] Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific is the "Track Two" dialogue on security issues of Asia-Pacific.[3][4]

Specific disputes[edit]

Summary of disputes
Area of dispute
The nine-dash line area
Vietnamese coast
Sea area north of Borneo
South China Sea Islands
Sea area north of the Natuna Islands
Sea area west of Palawan and Luzon
Sabah area
Luzon Strait
Pedra Branca area

The disputes involve both maritime boundaries and islands. There are several disputes, each of which involved a different collection of countries:

  1. The nine-dash line area claimed by the Republic of China, later People's Republic of China which covers most of the South China sea and overlaps Exclusive Economic Zone claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  2. Maritime boundary along the Vietnamese coast between Brunei, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  3. Maritime boundary north of Borneo between Brunei, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  4. Islands in the South China Sea, including the Paracels Islands, the Pratas Islands, Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands between Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  5. Maritime boundary in the waters north of the Natuna Islands between Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.[5]
  6. Maritime boundary off the coast of Palawan and Luzon between Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  7. Maritime boundary, land territory, and the islands of Sabah, including Ambalat, between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
  8. Maritime boundary and islands in the Luzon Strait between the China, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
  9. Maritime boundary and islands in the Pedra Branca (and Middle Rocks) between Singapore and Malaysia.


The area may be rich in oil and natural gas deposits; however, the estimates are highly varied. The Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining of the People's Republic of China estimate that the South China Sea may contain 17.7 billion tons of crude oil (compared to Kuwait with 13 billion tons). In the years following the announcement by the ministry, the claims regarding the South China Sea islands intensified.[6] However, other sources claim that the proven reserve of oil in the South China Sea may only be 7.5 billion barrels, or about 1.1 billion tons.[7] According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)'s profile of the South China Sea region, a US Geological Survey estimate puts the region's discovered and undiscovered oil reserves at 11 billion barrels, as opposed to a Chinese figure of 125 billion barrels.[8] The same EIA report also points to the wide variety of natural gas resource estimations, ranging from 190 trillion cubic feet to 500 trillion cubic feet, likely located in the contested Reed Bank".[8]

The South China Sea is dubbed by China as the "second Persian Sea."[9] The state-owned China Offshore Exploration Corp. planned to spend 200 billion RMB (US$30 billion) in the next 20 years to exploit oil in the region, with the estimated production of 25 million metric tons of crude oil and natural gas per annum, at a depth of 2000 meters within the next five years.[10]

The Philippines began exploring the areas west of Palawan for oil in 1970. Exploration in the area began in Reed Bank/Tablemount.[11] in 1976, gas was discovered following the drilling of a well.[12] However, China's complaints halted the exploration.

On 27 March 1984, the first Philippine oil company discovered an oil field off Palawan, which is an island province bordering the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea.[13] These oil fields supply 15% of annual oil consumption in the Philippines.[citation needed]

The nine-dotted line was originally an "eleven-dotted-line," first indicated by the then Kuomintang government of the Republic of China in 1947, for its claims to the South China Sea. After, the Communist Party of China took over mainland China and formed the People's Republic of China in 1949. The line was adopted and revised to nine as endorsed by Zhou Enlai.[14]

The legacy of the nine-dotted line is viewed by some Chinese government officials, and by the Chinese military, as providing historical support for their claims to the South China Sea.[15]

In the 1970s, however, the Philippines, Malaysia and other countries began referring to the Spratly Islands as included in their own territory. On 11 June 1978, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines issued Presidential decree No. 1596, declaring the Spratly Islands (referred to therein as the Kalayaan Island Group) as Philippine territory.[16]

The abundant fishing opportunities within the region are another motivation for the claim. In 1988, the South China Sea is believed to have accounted for 8% of world fishing catches, a figure that has grown since then.[citation needed] There have been many clashes in the Philippines with foreign fishing vessels (including China) in disputed areas. China believes that the value in fishing and oil from the sea has risen to a trillion dollars.[citation needed]

The area is also one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. In the 1980s, at least 270 merchant ships used the route[clarification needed] each day. Currently[timeframe?], more than half the tonnage of oil transported by sea passes through it, a figure rising steadily with the growth of Chinese consumption of oil. This traffic is three times greater than that passing through the Suez Canal and five times more than the Panama Canal.

As of 1996, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and other countries asserted claims within the Chinese nine-dotted line[17] The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which came into effect on 16 November 1994, resulted in more intense territorial disputes between the parties.

As of 2012, all of the Paracel Islands are under Chinese control.

Eight of the Spratly Islands are under Chinese control; Vietnamese troops control the greatest number of Spratly islands, 29.[citation needed][timeframe?] Eight islands are controlled by the Philippines, five by Malaysia, two by Brunei and one by Taiwan.[citation needed][timeframe?] In 2012 the Indian Ambassador to Vietnam, while expressing concern over rising tension in the area, said that 50 per cent of its trade passes through the area and called for peaceful resolution of the disputes in accordance with international law.[18]

2011 agreement[edit]

On 20 July 2011, the PRC, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam agreed to a set of preliminary guidelines which would help resolve the dispute.[19] The agreement was described by the PRC's assistant foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, as "an important milestone document for cooperation among China and ASEAN countries".[19] Some of the early drafts acknowledged aspects such as "marine environmental protection, scientific research, safety of navigation and communication, search and rescue and combating transnational crime," although the issue of oil and natural gas drilling remains unresolved.

Chinese objection to Indian naval presence and oil exploration[edit]

On 22 July 2011, the INS Airavat, an Indian amphibious assault vessel on a friendly visit to Vietnam, was reportedly contacted 45 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast in the disputed South China Sea by a party identifying itself as the Chinese Navy and stating that the ship was entering Chinese waters.[20][21] A spokesperson for the Indian Navy explained that as no ship or aircraft was visible, the INS Airavat proceeded on her onward journey as scheduled. The Indian Navy further clarified that "[t]here was no confrontation involving the INS Airavat. India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the right of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law. These principles should be respected by all."[20]

In September 2011, shortly after China and Vietnam signed an agreement seeking to contain a dispute over the South China Sea, India's state-run explorer, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) said that its overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh Limited, had signed a three-year agreement with PetroVietnam for developing long-term co-operation in the oil sector, and that it had accepted Vietnam's offer of exploration in certain specified blocks in the South China Sea[22] In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, without referring to India by name, stated as follows:

"China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island. China's stand is based on historical facts and international law. China's sovereign rights and positions are formed in the course of history and this position has been held by Chinese Government for long. On the basis of this China is ready to engage in peaceful negotiations and friendly consultations to peacefully solve the disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights so as to positively contribute to peace and tranquillity in the South China Sea area. We hope that the relevant countries respect China's position and refrain from taking unilateral action to complicate and expand the issue. We hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve the bilateral disputes through bilateral channels. As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China's jurisdiction. We hope the foreign countries do not get involved in South China Sea dispute."[23][24]

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman responded, "The Chinese had concerns, but we are going by what the Vietnamese authorities have told us and [we] have conveyed this to the Chinese."[23] The Indo-Vietnamese deal was also denounced by the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times.[22][24]


In Spring 2010, Chinese officials reportedly communicated to US officials that the South China Sea is "an area of 'core interest' that is as non-negotiable" and on par with Taiwan and Tibet on the national agenda.[25] but may have backed away from that assertion in 2011.[26][27][28]

In October 2011, China's Global Times newspaper, published by the Communist Party, People's Daily, editorialised on South China Sea territorial disputes under the banner "Don't take peaceful approach for granted". The article referenced recent incidents involving Philippines and South Korea detaining Chinese fishing boats in the region:[29]

"If these countries don't want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons. We need to be ready for that, as it may be the only way for the disputes in the sea to be resolved." Global Times (China), 25 October 2011 Responding to questions about whether this reflected official policy, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated the country's commitment "to resolving the maritime dispute through peaceful means."[30]

Alan Dupont of the University of New South Wales has said that the Chinese government appears to be directing its fishing fleet into disputed waters as a matter of policy.[31]

Oil development[edit]

Vietnam and Japan reached an agreement early in 1978 on the development of oil in the South China Sea. As of 2012, Vietnam had concluded some 60 oil and gas exploration and production contracts with various foreign companies.[32] In 1986, the "White Tiger" oil field in the South China Sea came into operation, producing over 2,000 tons of crude oil per year, followed by the "The Bear" and "Dragon" oil fields.[33] As of 2011, Vietnam was the sixth-largest oil producer in the Asia-Pacific region although the country is now a net oil importer; in 2009 while petroleum accounted for 14 percent of government income, this was down from 24 percent in 2004.[34]

China's first independently designed and constructed oil drilling platform in the South China Sea is the Ocean Oil 981 (海洋石油981). The major shareholders are J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (19%), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (14%), T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and affiliates (6%), and BlackRock, Inc. (5%).[35] It began operation on 9 May 2012 in the South China Sea, 320 kilometres (200 mi) southeast of Hong Kong, at a depth of 1,500 m and employing 160 people.[36] On 2 May 2014, the platform was moved near to the Paracel islands,[37] a move Vietnam stated violated their territorial claims[38] while Chinese officials said was legal[39] as it falls within surrounding waters of the Paracel Islands which China militarily controls.

Timeline of events[edit]

3rd century BC[edit]

It has been claimed by the People's Republic of China on the argument that since 200 BC Chinese fishermen have used the Spratly islands.[40]

3rd century[edit]

Two famous Chinese books authored by Wan Zhen of the Eastern Wu State and published during the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD) and a work titled Guangzhou Ji (Chronicles of Guangzhou) authored by Pei Yuan of the Jin Dynasties described the Paracel and Spratly islands.[41] The local government of the Jin Dynasties exercised jurisdiction over the islands by sending patrolling naval boats to the surrounding sea areas.[42]

5th–13th centuries[edit]

Naval forces of the Song State of the Southern Dynasties (420–479 AD) patrolled the Paracel and Spratly islands.[43] In the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD), the islands were placed under the administration and authority of the Qiongzhou Perfecture (now Hainan Province).[43] Chinese administration of the South China Sea continued into the North and South Song dynasties (970–1279).[43]

Archaeologists have found Chinese made potteries porcelains and other historical relics from the Southern dynasties (420–589), the Sui dynasties (581–618), the Tang dynasty (618–907), the Song Dynasties (960–1279), the Yuan dynasties (1206–1368), the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and later eras up to modern times on the South China Sea islands.[43]

19th century[edit]


World War II[edit]

  • 1939 – Japan occupies the islands and takes control of the South China Sea. The Spratlys and the Paracels were conquered by Japan in 1939. Japan administered the Spratlys via Taiwan's jurisdiction and the Paracels via Hainan's jurisdiction.[56]


China 1947 map
Territorial monument of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) on Southwest Cay, Spratly Islands, defining the cay as part of Vietnamese territory (to Phước Tuy Province). Used since 22 August 1956 until 1975, when replaced by another one from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (successor state after the Fall of Saigon)
  • 1945 – In accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and with American help, the armed forces of the Republic of China government at Nanjing accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons in Taiwan, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Nanjing then declared both archipelagoes to be part of Guangdong Province.[57][58]
  • 1946 – The R.O.C. established garrisons on both Woody (now Yongxing / 永兴) Island in the Paracels and Taiping Island in the Spratlys. France protested. The French tried but failed to dislodge Chinese nationalist troops from Yongxing Island (the only habitable island in the Paracels), but were able to establish a small camp on Pattle (now Shanhu / 珊瑚) Island in the southwestern part of the archipelago.[58][59][60] The Republic of China drew up The Southern China Sea Islands Location Map, marking the national boundaries in the sea with 11 lines, showing the U shaped claim on the entire South China Sea, and showing the Spratly and Paracels in Chinese territory, in 1947.[55] The Americans reminded the Philippines at its independence in 1946 that the Spratlys was not Philippine territory, both to not anger Chiang Kai-shek in China and because the Spratlys were not part of the Philippines per the 1898 treaty Spain signed with America.[59]
  • 1950 – After the Chinese nationalists were driven from Hainan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), they withdrew their garrisons in both the Paracels and Spratlys to Taiwan.
  • 1952 – Japan renounced any claims of sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos in accordance with Article 2 Clause (f) of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, but no beneficiary was designated.[61]
  • 1954 – France ceased to be a factor when it accepted the independence of both south and north Vietnam and withdrew from Indochina.
  • 1956 – North Vietnam Communist government formally accepted that the Paracel and Spratly islands were historically Chinese territory. About the same time, the PLA reestablished a Chinese garrison on Yongxing Island in the Paracels, while the Republic of China (Taipei) put troops back on Taiping Island in the Spratlys. But, that same year, South Vietnam reopened the abandoned French camp on Shanhu Island and announced that it had annexed the Paracel archipelago as well as the Spratlys.[62] In 1956, Cloma proclaimed the establishment of a new country, “Freedomland” in the Spratly Islands. The sole function of Freedomland turned out to be issuing postage stamps to collectors. Cloma’s announcement of Freedomland caused both Beijing and Taipei to reiterate China’s claims to the Spratlys. Taipei sent troops to drive Cloma off Taiping Island. Its forces are still there. Cloma’s proclamation of Freedomland was legal in the Philippines because, as Manila noted in its reply to protests of Cloma’s actions from Beijing, Saigon, and Taipei, the Philippines had made no claim of its own to the Spratlys.
  • 4 September 1958 – China published "Declaration of the Government of the People's Republic of China on China's Territorial Sea published on 4 September 1958" to lawfully describe true meaning of "nine-dotted line on South China Sea".
  • 14 September 1958 – Communist Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong sent Premier Zhou Enlai a formal diplomatic saying respect China's decision on South China Sea.


  • 1970 – China occupies Amphitrite Group of the Paracel Islands
  • 1971 – Philippines announces claim to islands adjacent to its territory in the Spratlys, which they named Kalayaan, which was formally incorporated into Palawan Province in 1972. The Philippines President Marcos announced the claims after Taiwanese troops attacked and shot at a Philippine fishing boat on Itu Aba.[63]
  • 1972 – Bureau of Survey and Cartography under the Office of the Premier of Vietnam printed out "The World Atlas" says "The chain of islands from the Nansha and Xisha Islands to Hainan Island, Taiwan Island, the Penghu Islands and the Zhoushan Islands ... are shaped like a bow and constitute a Great Wall defending the China mainland."[64]
  • 1974 – China ousts South Vietnamese forces from the Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands at the Battle of the Paracel Islands.
  • 14 February 1975, regretting the agreement with China in 1956. The Communist Vietnamese government reclaims to the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.


1984年小平提出了两个选项:“一个办法是我们用武力统统把这些岛收回来;一个办法是把主权问题搁置起来,共同开发。” Translation: In 1984, Deng Xiaoping raised two options: "One method is that we use force to get these islands back. Another is to shelve the sovereignty issue, co-develop the place."

  • 14 March 1988 – China defeats the Vietnamese navy in the Johnson South Reef Skirmish, killing over 70 Vietnamese, after the Vietnamese tried to intercept a Chinese force commissioned by UNESCO to build an observation post.


  • February 1992 – China passes a law declaring the entire South China Sea as its territory, triggering protests from around the region
  • 1997 – Philippines begins to challenge Chinese sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal.[65]
  • 1999 – Under President Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan stated that "legally, historically, geographically, or in reality", all of the South China Sea and Spratly islands were Taiwan's territory and under Taiwanese sovereignty, and denounced actions undertaken there by Malaysia and the Philippines, in a statement on 13 July 1999 released by the foreign ministry of Taiwan.[66] Taiwan and China's claims "mirrors" each other.[67] During international talks involving the Spratly islands, China and Taiwan have cooperated with each other since both have the same claims.[67][68]
  • 9 May 1999 – The day after the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Philippine navy sent BRP Sierra Madre and ran her aground on Second Thomas Shoal. China issued official protest afterward. Philippine refused to withdraw the ship.[69] Since then China deploys service ships to the corresponding water regularly.



  • ASEAN and China agree to a code of conduct in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea[70]


  • 8 January – Chinese ships fired upon two Vietnamese fishing boats from Thanh Hoa province, killing 9 people and detaining one ship with 8 people on Hainan Island.[71] Chinese Foreign Ministry claim they were pirates that opened fire first and obtained confession from the arrested members.[72]


  • March 2009 – The Pentagon reported that Chinese ships harassed US surveillance ship. According to the report, five Chinese vessels "shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters." The crew members aboard the vessels, two of which were within 50 feet, waved Chinese flags and told the US ship to leave the area, the statement said.[73]
  • 13 May 2009 – The deadline for states to make seabed hydrocarbon claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is suspected to have caused ancient island claims to surface and become inflamed.[74]


  • 25 February – The Chinese frigate Dongguan fired three shots at Philippine fishing boats in the vicinity of Jackson atoll. The shots were fired after the frigate instructed the fishing boats to leave, and one of those boats experienced trouble removing its anchor.[75][76]
  • 26 May – The clash involved the Vietnamese Binh Minh 02 oil and gas survey ship and three Chinese maritime patrol vessels occurred 120 km (80 miles) off the south-central coast of Vietnam and some 600 km south of China's Hainan island. Vietnam says the Chinese boats deliberately cut the survey ship's cables in Vietnamese waters. China denies the allegation.[77] The event stirred up unprecedented anti-China protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.[78]
  • 9 June – A Norwegian-flagged seismic conducting ship hired by Vietnam Oil & Gas Corporation (PetroVietnam) clashed with another three Chinese fishery patrol vessels within Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone. Vietnam once again claimed its exploration cables were deliberately cut.[79]
  • 10 October – Vietnam and China agree to a new set of principles on settling maritime disputes[70]
  • November – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad believed Malaysia could profit from China's economic growth through co-operation with China, and said that China was not a threat to anyone and was not worried about aggression from China, accusing the United States of provoking China and trying to turn China's neighbours against China.[80][81]
  • 17 November – Obama made a policy announcement to Australian Parliament about US pivot or rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific.


  • April – The Philippine warship Gregorio del Pilar was involved in a standoff with two Chinese surveillance vessels in the Scarborough Shoal, an area claimed by both nations.[82] The Philippine navy had been trying to arrest Chinese fishermen who were allegedly taking government-protected marine species from the area, but the surveillance boats prevented them.[83] On 14 April 2012, US and the Philippines held their yearly exercises in Palawan, Philippines.[84] On 16 April 2012, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged a Philippine archaeological ship to immediately leave the waters of the Scarborough Shoal, which China claims is an "integral part of its territory."[85] On 7 May 2012, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying called a meeting with Alex Chua, Charge D'affaires of the Philippine Embassy in China, to make a serious representation over the current incident at the Scarborough Shoal. China also warned its nationals against travel to the Philippines and raised trade barriers on imported pineapples and bananas.[86][87] On 16 May 2012, a fishing ban in the Scarborough Shoal by the governments of China and the Philippines became effective.[88][89] By mid June 2012, both nations had withdrawn their vessels from the waters around the disputed Shoal due to the arrival of the typhoon season.[90] By July 2012, China had erected a barrier to the entrance of the shoal,[91][92] and that vessels belonging to Beijing's China Marine Surveillance and Fisheries Law Enforcement Command were observed nearby the disputed shoal;[93] as of December 2012, Chinese government ships remain around the shoal and have been turning away Filipino vessels;[94][95] additionally, China has stated it would interdict, and board,[96] any foreign vessel that entered waters it claimed.[97] China later clarified that it would only conduct interdiction, and boarding, vessels within 12 nautical miles for which China has announced baselines.[98]
  • May – Taiwan rejected a pan-Chinese approach of co-ordinating with the PRC in asserting claims to the South China Sea.[99]
  • June – Indian Navy vessels sailing in the South China Sea received an unscheduled escort by a People's Liberation Army Navy frigate for 12 hours.[100][101]
Dongguan aground on the Half Moon Shoal.
  • 11 July – a Jianghu-V type frigate of the PLA Navy, 560 Dongguan, ran aground on Hasa Hasa Shoal just 60 nmi west of Rizal, well within the Philippines' 200 nmi-EEZ.[102] By 15 July the ship had been refloated and was returning to port with no injuries and only minor damage.[103] The 2012 ASEAN summit was taking place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the same time, where the mood was already tense over the escalating aggression in the region.[103]
  • July – The National Assembly of Vietnam passed a law demarcating Vietnamese sea borders to include the Spratly and Paracel islands.[104][105]
  • July – Citing reports from diplomats on-hand, Reuters wrote that Cambodia "batted away repeated attempts to raise the issue about the disputed waters during the ASEAN Meeting last week as well as the ASEAN Regional Forum."[106]
  • 22 July – The Central Military Commission (China) decided to establish the Sansha garrison.[107] The move was criticised by the Philippines and Vietnam.[108] China responded by calling in a senior US diplomat and reiterating their "absolute sovereignty" over the region.[109]
  • 1 September – Taiwan performed live fire military exercises on Taiping island on September 2012, reports said that Vietnam was explicitly named by the Taiwanese military as the "imaginary enemy" in the drill.[110][111][112][113][114][115] Vietnam protested against the exercises as violation of its territory and "voiced anger", demanding that Taiwan stop the drill.[116][117][118][119] Taiwan rejected Vietnam's protests, and Taiwan's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs declared that "Taiping Island is part of the Republic of China's territory....We have noted Vietnam's dissatisfaction over the drill...No one has the right to protest over Taiwan's exercise of its sovereign rights there", while China voiced its approval and support of Taiwan's military drill on the island.[120][121] Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said, "Our sovereignty over the island is undisputable and all of our activities and deployments on the island are legal and will never cause regional tensions." in response to Vietnamese claims on the island.[122][123] Among the inspectors of the live fire drill were Taiwanese national legislators, adding to the tensions.[124][125][126][127]
  • 5 September – Philippine president Aquino promulgated Administrative Order No. 29, naming maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago as the West Philippine Sea. The order declares that the Philippines exercises "sovereign jurisdiction" in its exclusive economic zone, an area declared by Presidential Decree No. 1599 of 11 June 1978 to extend to a distance of two hundred nautical miles beyond and from the baseline from which the territorial sea is measured.[128][129][130] The Philippine Baselines are defined by Republic Act No. 3046, as amended.[131] Official PRC media responded that this was a "fond dream".[132]
  • 23 September – China launched a program to increase the number of UAVs monitoring the Scarborough Shoal, Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands and East China Sea, which follows a national marine zoning program approved by the State Council during the previous year as a part of China's 12th five year plan.[133]
  • December – In an interview with the Times of India, Philippines Vice-President Binay welcomed the statement made by Indian Navy Admiral Joshi who stated that the Indian Navy is prepared to operate in the South China Sea.[134]


  • March – Malaysia displayed no concern over China conducting a military exercise at James Shoal on March 2013.[135]
  • August – Malaysia suggested that it might work with China over their South China Sea claims and ignore the other claimants, with Malaysian Defence Minister Hishamuddin Hussein saying that Malaysia had no problem with China patrolling the South China Sea, and telling ASEAN, America, and Japan that "Just because you have enemies, doesn't mean your enemies are my enemies".[136][137]


  • 10 January – China imposes a "fishing permit" rule in the South China Sea, over the objections of the United States, the Philippines, and Vietnam.[138]
  • 11 March – Two Philippine ships are expelled by the Chinese Coast Guard from Ayungin Shoal in the Spratly group of islands.[139]
  • 30 March – The Republic of the Philippines invokes the compulsory settlement of dispute clause under the Law of the Sea Convention, by submitting a case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in its case against China over competing South China Sea claims.
  • 2 May – Vietnamese naval ships and Chinese vessels collide in the South China Sea. The incident occurred as China set up an oil rig in an area to which both nations lay claim.[140] On 26 May, a Vietnamese fishing boat sank near the oil rig, after colliding with a Chinese vessel. As both sides imputed the blame to each other, Vietnam released video footage a week later, showing the Vietnamese boat being rammed by the Chinese vessel before sinking.[141] Meanwhile, ASEAN leaders expressed "serious concerns" over the tensions, calling for self-restraint and peaceful acts from both sides. Many observed that this marked a change in tone by ASEAN members, who had previously avoided a collision of their economic interests with China.[142]
  • 19 August – A Shenyang J-11 intercepts a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft flying in international waters the South China Sea.[143]
  • 7 December – the United States State Department released a report concluding that China's 9-dash-line claim does not accord with the international law of the sea.


  • 8 April – China is transforming Mischief Reef into an island.[144] According to UNCLOS, artificial islands do not afford the occupying nation territorial waters.[145]
  • 8 June – Chinese coast guard vessel anchored at Luconia Shoals (Betting Patinggi Ali), leading to a protest by Malaysia.[146]
  • 15 August – Malaysia continues its protest as China did not move their vessel by sending diplomatic notes. In a statement by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim, “We have never received any official claims from them (China) and they said the island (Beting Patinggi Ali) belongs to them but the country is 400,000 kilometres away. We are taking diplomatic action but in whatever approach, they have to get out of our national waters”.[147]
  • 27 October – US destroyer USS Lassen navigates within 12 nautical miles of the emerging land masses in the Spratly Islands as the first in a series of "Freedom of Navigation Operation".[148]
  • 14 November – Indonesia announces that it is planning to take China to court over the Natuna Islands.[149]

The Republic of China (Taiwan)[edit]

  • 1945 – In accordance with the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations and with American help, the armed forces of the Republic of China government in Nanjing accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrisons in Taiwan, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Nanjing then declared both archipelagoes to be part of Guangdong Province.
  • 1946 – The R.O.C. established garrisons on both Woody (now Yongxing / 永兴) Island in the Paracels and Taiping Island in the Spratlys. France protested. The French tried but failed to dislodge Chinese nationalist troops from Yongxing Island (the only habitable island in the Paracels), but were able to establish a small camp on Pattle (now Shanhu / 珊瑚) Island in the southwestern part of the archipelago.
  • 1950 – After the Chinese nationalists of the R.O.C. were driven from Hainan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), they withdrew their garrisons in both the Paracels and Spratlys to Taiwan.
  • 1956 – The Republic of China (Taipei) put troops back on Taiping Island, the only naturally habitable island in the Spratlys.
  • 1975 – the R.O.C. claims to be the only legitimate sovereign of the Spratlys. For the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, successively seized the Spratly Islands.[citation needed]
  • 28 January 2000 – The establishment of the Coast Guard Administration to take over the Pacific Island[citation needed]


  • 1956 – North Vietnam formally accepted that the Paracel and Spratly islands were historically Chinese. But, that same year, South Vietnam reopened the abandoned French camp on Shanhu Island in the Paracels and announced that it had annexed the Paracel archipelago as well as the Spratlys.
  • 1974 – South Vietnam attempted to enforce its claims to sovereignty by placing settlers in the Spratlys and expelling Chinese fishermen from the southwestern Paracels. In the ensuing naval battle at Shanhu Island, China defeated Vietnamese forces. This enabled Beijing to extend its control to the entire Paracel archipelago, where it has not been effectively challenged since.
  • 1979 – Hanoi (now the capital of a united Vietnam) repudiated its earlier deference to China’s claims, adopted South Vietnam’s position, and claimed sovereignty over all the islands in the South China Sea. In the early 1980s, as Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Taipei protested, Vietnam resumed vigorous settlement and garrisoning of the Spratlys.

The People's Republic of China[edit]

  • 1956 – The People's Republic of China reestablished a Chinese garrison on Yongxing Island (the only naturally habitable island in the Paracels), while the Republic of China (Taipei) put troops back on Taiping Island (the only naturally habitable island in the Spratlys).
  • 1974 – South Vietnam attempted to enforce its claims to sovereignty by placing settlers in the Spratlys and expelling Chinese fishermen from the southwestern Paracels. In the ensuing naval battle at Shanhu Island, China defeated Vietnamese forces. This enabled Beijing to extend its control to the entire Paracel archipelago, where it has not been effectively challenged since.
  • 1988 – Johnson South Reef Skirmish with Vietnam, China took seven Spratly Islands.
  • 1997 – China reaffirmed the U-shaped area in the South China Sea as Chinese territorial waters and Chinese sovereignty over of all reefs within the area.[citation needed]
  • 2012 – Handover of political leadership in China leads to a greater assertiveness in pressing territorial claims.[150] China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) estimated that extracting from South China sea could double China's oil and gas reserves.[151]

Non-claimant views[edit]

United States[edit]

The United States and China are currently in disagreement over the South China Sea.[152] This disagreement is exacerbated by the fact that the US is not a member of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Nevertheless, the US has stood by its manoeuvres, claiming that "peaceful surveillance activities and other military activities without permission in a country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),"[153] is allowed under the convention. Additionally, a South China Sea free to access is in the US's economic and geopolitical interests.[154] In relation to the dispute, Secretary Clinton voiced her support for fair access by reiterating that freedom of navigation and respect of international law is a matter of national interest to the United States.[155] Her comments were countered by China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi as "in effect an attack on China," who warned the United States against making the South China Sea an international issue or multilateral issue.[156]

Clinton testified in support of congressional approval of the Law of the Sea Convention, which would strengthen US ability to support countries that oppose Chinese claims to certain islands in the area.[157] On 29 May 2012, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed concern over this development, stating that "non-claimant Association of South East Asian Nations countries and countries outside the region have adopted a position of not getting involved into territorial disputes."[158] In July 2012, the United States Senate passed resolution 524, initially sponsored by Senator John Kerry, stating (among other things) the United States' strong support for the 2002 declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea, reaffirms the United States' commitment to assist the nations of Southeast Asia to remain strong and independent, and supports enhanced operations by the United States armed forces in the Western Pacific.[159]

In 2014, the United States responded to China's claims over the fishing grounds of other nations by saying that "China has not offered any explanation or basis under international law for these extensive maritime claims."[160] USN CNO Jonathan Greenert then pledged American support to the Philippines in its territorial conflicts with the PRC.[161] The Chinese Foreign Ministry asked the United States to maintain a neutral position on the issue.[162] In 2014 and 2015, the United States continued freedom of navigation operations, including in the South China Sea.[163] Sources closer to Pentagon have also said that the US administration is planning to deploy some naval assets within the 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands. In response to this announcement, Beijing issued a strict warning and said that she would not allow any country to violate China's territorial waters in the name of "Freedom of Navigation".[164] On 27 October 2015, a US destroyer USS Lassen navigated within 12 nautical miles of the emerging land masses in the Spratly Islands as the first in a series of "Freedom of Navigation Operation".[148] This is the first time since 2012 that the US has directly challenged China's claims of the island's territorial limit.[165] On 8–9 November 2015, two US B-52 strategic bombers flew near artificial Chinese-built islands in the area of the Spratly Islands and were contacted by Chinese ground controllers but continued their mission undeterred.[166]

The United States itself has not signed UNCLOS, but has accepted all but Part XI as customary international law.[167]

Ethnic minorities[edit]

Cham people issue[edit]

Former Cham states were originated in South China Sea and were annexed by Vietnam in 1832;[168] The Vietnamese government fears that using the evidence of Champa's historical connection to the disputed islands in South China Sea would expose the human rights violations and killings of ethnic minorities in Vietnam such as in the 2001 and 2004 uprisings, and lead to the issue of Cham autonomy being brought to attention, since the Vietnamese conquered the Hindu and Muslim Cham people in a war in 1832, and the Vietnamese continue to destroy evidence of Cham culture and artifacts left behind, plundering or building on top of Cham temples, building farms over them, banning Cham religious practices, and omitting references to the destroyed Cham capital of Song Luy in the 1832 invasion in history books and tourist guides. The situation of Cham compared to the ethnic Vietnamese is substandard, lacking water and electricity and living in houses made out of mud.[169]

Moro National Liberation Front[edit]

Various factions of the Muslim Moro people are waging a war for independence against the Philippines. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari declared its support for China against the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute, calling both China and the Moro people as victims of Philippine colonialism, and noting China's history of friendly relation with the Sultanate of Sulu in the region.[170] The MNLF also denounced America's assistance to the Philippines in their colonization of the Moro people in addition to denouncing the Philippines' claims to the islands disputed with China, and denouncing America for siding with the Philippines in the dispute, noting that in 1988 China "punished" Vietnam for attempting to set up a military presence on the disputed islands, noting that the Moros and China maintained peaceful relations, while on the other hand the Moros had to resist other colonial powers (having to fight the Spanish, fight the Americans, and fight the Japanese, in addition to fighting the Philippines).[171]

While the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace deal with the Philippines, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) did not and renewed armed resistance against Philippine rule in Zamboanga and on September 15, 2013. In response to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF's) fighting against the Philippine army, the New York Times published an article crediting "every" Philippine government for having "struggled" to "bring peace" to the Muslims of Mindanao since 1946 when it became independent and claimed that it is the "belief" of the Muslims that they are being subjected to oppression and exploitation by the Christians that is the "problem" which is causing the conflict. The newspaper also claimed that the conflict stretched back to 1899 when Moro "insurrectionists" were "quelled" by the American army.[172] On January 26, 2014 the New York Times published another article claiming that "every Philippine government" has "struggled to bring peace to Mindanao" and claimed that reports of exploitation and oppression by the Filipino Christians originated from what Muslims "say" and the newspaper also praised President Benigno S. Aquino III's "landmark peace deal" with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).[173] The New York Times labelled Moro fighters as "Muslim-led groups" and as "violent".[174] The New York Times blamed "Islamic extremist groups" for carrying out attacks in the Philippines.[175] The New York Times editorial board endorsed Philippine President Benigno Aquino's planned peace deal and the passage of "Bangsamoro Basic Law", blaming the "Muslim insurgency" for causing trouble to the "largely Catholic country".[176] The New York Times claimed that "Islamic militants" were fighting the Philippine military.[177]

The New York Times claimed the peace deal between the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) "seeks to bring prosperity to the restive south and weaken the appeal of the extremist groups.", and linked the winding down of an American military counterterrorism operation to increased American military cooperation with the Philippines against China.[178] The New York Times hailed Mr Aquino's "peace agreement" as an "accomplishment" as it reported on Aquino raising the "alarm" on China in the South China Sea.[179] The New York Times editorial board published an article siding with the Philippines against China in the South China Sea dispute and supporting the Philippines actions against China.[180][181] The New York Times editorial board endorsed aggressive American military action against China in the South China Sea.[182][183]

American and Filipino forces launched a joint operation against the Moros in the Mamasapano clash, in which Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters manage to kill 44 Filipino police commandos and caused massive blow back for the botched raid, putting a decisive halt to American plans for its Asia military "pivot" in the Philippines.[184] Moros have reported that “4 caucasian-looking (American) soldiers” were killed in the Mamasapano clash along with the 44 Filipinos.[185]

The Moro National Liberation Front published an open letter to the United States President Barack Hussein Obama and demanded to know why America is supporting Philippine colonialism against the Moro Muslim people and the Filipino "war of genocide" and atrocities against Moros, reminding Obama that the Moro people have resisted and fought against the atrocities of Filipino, Japanese, American, and Spanish invaders, and reminding Obama of past war crimes also committed by American troops against Moro women and children like the Moro Crater massacre at Bud Dajo.[186]

The Moro National Liberation Front accused the Philippines, Japan, America, and Spain of conspiring against the Moros and recounted their invasions, imperialism, and atrocities against the Moros and demanded that they end the current colonization against the Moro people. The MNLF recounted that the Spanish were greedy colonizers, that the Americans committed massacres of Moro children and women at Mount Bagsak and Bud Dajo, and that the Japanese "exhibited tyranny, cruelty and inhumanity at its lowest level", and "had to suffer their worst defeat and highest death mortality at the hands of the Bangsamoro freedom fighters", demanding an apology from Japan for crimes committed against the Moros.[187]

The Moro National Liberation Front questioned the humanity and morality of the Philippines, Japan, America, and Spain, noting that they have done nothing to end the colonialism and war inflicted upon the Moros and reminded them that they have resisted and fought against Japanese, American, and Spanish atrocities and war crimes while the Filipinos bent over, capitulated and submitted to the invaders. The MNLF brought up the massacre committed by American troops at Bud Dajo against Moro women and children and boasted that compared to the Japanese casualty rate in the Visayas and Luzon, the amount of Japanese imperialists slaughtered by the Moro freedom fighters was greater by the thousands and that there was no capitulation like the "Fall of Bataan" to the Japanese by the Moros while the Luzon Filipinos submitted.[188] The MNLF said that the Japanese, American, and Spanish cruelty has been continued by Filipino rule.[189]

Japanese scholar Taoka Shunji criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for trying to falsely portray China as a threat to Japan and that it was invading its neighbors like the Philippines. He pointed out that the Spratly islands were not part of the Philippines when the US acquired the Philippines from Spain in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, and the Japanese-ruled Taiwan itself had annexed the Spratly islands in 1938, a move that was never challenged by the US-ruled Philippines, which never asserted that it was their territory. He also pointed out that other countries did not need to do full land reclamation since they already controlled islands and that the reason China engaged in extensive land reclamation is because they needed it to build airfields since China only has control over reefs.[190]

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