Thursday, September 08, 2016

Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea


The conflicting territorial and maritime claims of China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea continue to affect diplomatic relations in the region. The potential for oil and gas exploitation, conflicting fishing rights and the control of major shipping lanes means that there are major disputes over both maritime boundaries and the ownership of islands in the South China Sea.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies has mapped how governments in the South China Sea are using shipping vessels, traditionally used for maritime law enforcement, to reinforce their territorial claims in the Sea. In Are Maritime Law Enforcement Forces Destabilizing Asia? the center has mapped a number of incidents in which countries have used coast guard and other maritime law enforcement agencies to try to assert their sovereignty in the Sea.

You can browse through the mapped incidents chronologically by using the timeline above the map or by using the 'previous' and 'next' buttons.


Back in 2014 Al Jeezera published a map examining the history of South China Sea Disputes. The map explores some of the historical hot-spots between China and its neighbors in the area since 1974. The map itself was created using Leaflet.js and the Knight Lab Story Maps library.

The Story Map template means that you can explore the map chronologically, using the forward and back arrows to progress through Al Jaeezera's mapped history of the region. You can also click on the map markers to jump to individual locations on the map.


One of China's key strategies in the South China Sea has been to build artificial islands and to transform reefs and rocks in the Sea into islands capable of housing air strips, military buildings and port facilities.

Last year the New York Times published a report on China's island building strategy in the South China Sea. What China Has Been Building in the South China Sea includes aerial imagery of some of these new islands, an account of how the islands are created and a map of some of the major territorial disputes in the Sea.

In July of this year an international tribunal ruled against China's maritime claims in the South China Sea in Philippines v. China.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies has mapped some of the key arbitration rulings by the tribunal, in the Arbitration Outcome Map. One of the key rulings of the tribunal is that only natural islands and islands that can sustain human habitation qualify to have 12 nautical miles of territorial waters and 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones.

China does not acknowledge the tribunal and therefore refuses to abide by its ruling.
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