The South China Sea seems to be the talk of the town lately. This vast 1.4 million square miles abutted by the Pacific Ocean has been the target of water wars for years. Not only is it a zone with tremendous importance but one-third of the world’s ship sail through the South China Sea at least once a year. Additionally, it not only holds hold vast oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed but apparently has some sacred ties.
What is so sacred about the South China Sea, where numerous nations have made rival territorial claims? The answer might just lie in its history.
The South China Sea is the leading name utilized in English for the sea, but it is occasionally called by various names in China’s neighboring nations, frequently reflecting historical claims to gain control over the sea.
The Portuguese sailors in the sixteenth century called it the “Mar da China” However, the battle was never in the name but in the domination of the entire area. The South China Sea is not just a massive ocean of water but of inhabitants that occupy some of the 250 small islands. If there are not people to be found, there is plenty of stunning shoals, sandbars, atolls, and cays, which go on for miles.
In spite of the beauty of South China Sea’s sandbanks, and isles, it is has become overshadowed by numerous nations wanting the piece of the pie. These aggressive disputes include both island and maritime claims among some self-governing states within the region. These self-governing states consist of the following:
- People’s Republic of China
- Republic of China (Taiwan)
- Republic of the Philippines
- The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Non-claimants such as the U.S., who advocates the “freedom of navigation” operation, wants the South China Sea to remain international waters. In case no one takes them seriously, the U.S. military has enlarged the presence and visibility of aircraft and naval ships to guarantee regional associates that they not playing any games. The U.S. is making it clear that they are not going anywhere, anytime soon. In fact, they seem to be prepared for battle.
Despite Chinese Coast Guard’s lack of adequate mobilization to challenge a U.S. Navy vessel in direct action, the United States presence does not seem to intimidate China at all. According to The National Interest Magazine, the Chinese have a secret strategy to rule the South China Sea. Using the Coast Guard to show of force in the South China Sea is not only secret strategy that China is doing, but also nations like the Philippines, Indonesia Malaysia, and Vietnam, have extended their coast guards in current years.
The secrets lie with what is below the South China Sea, which are the oil reserves and natural gas. The battle of who can get to it first has been a century-old fight. Back in Feb. 2016, China posted a sign on the Spratly Islands with the message: “Nansha is our national land, sacred and unbreakable.”
Seeing The South China Sea as sacred is nothing new to the Chinese. They have always considered it as one of the holiest places in the world. Chinese religions, for instance, Taoism and Buddhism view it as a consecrated zone. There are stories from old books like “Shan Hai Jing” that illustrate reincarnated monks going to the sacred temples situated in the South China Sea.
China not only feels that they have sacred ties to the South China Sea but believe they are entitled because of the history. China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, in Sept 2012, told Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, that there is “a slew of historical proof to display that China has power over the landmasses in the South China Sea, and the neighboring waters.”
The South China Sea is not the only area nations insist are holy. It seems that claiming an area over sacred and historical ties is not some strange phenomenon. For thousands of years, this was a tactic used for expansion. Ancient kingdoms either gained control over territories through violence, takeover, assimilation or lost them to opponents who possessed better-quality weapons or diplomacy. Territorial enlargement and contraction were the customs, established by the power or frailty of a nation or kingdom. The actual concept of “sacred lands” is old because control of a territory was built on who seized or robbed from the previous landholder.
There are numerous international legal specialists that concluded that China’s entitlement to sacred and historical ownership over the South China Sea, suggesting one hundred percent sovereign authority, is illogical.
Another legal analyst argues that China is merely doing what western nations have done. They support their point of view by citing that the United States has Guam in Asia, which is miles away from the U.S. and that the South Pacific has plenty of islands taken over by the French.
The Philippines formally initiated mediation actions against China’s sacred and historical claim back in January 2013. They claim China has no rights within the “nine-dash line” a line known as the separation mark used initially by the régime of the Republic of China. This line includes the Spratly Islands, which it said to be illegal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The arbitral tribunal supported the Philippines on July 12, 2016, making the point that there was not any proof that China had historically implemented control over the resources or, waters. Therefore, there was “no authorized basis for China to demand historical entitlements.”
China made it obvious that they were not going to take this ruling lying down. They wasted no time rejecting the verdict, calling it ” inaccurate.”
It would be difficult to know if this has this put an end to the South China Sea and the Sacred Water Wars. However, what can be said is that about $5 trillion worth of global trade moves through the region yearly. Furthermore, there is a projected 11 billion tubs of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas sited under the ocean. Additionally, almost 10 million loads of fish are captured in the South China Sea every year. These are enticing temptations for any nation to get their claim these areas.
By Jomo Merritt
Edited by Cathy Milne
The National Interest: China’s Secret Strategy to Dominate the South China Sea
BBC NEWS: Why is the South China Sea contentious?
BBC NEWS: South China Sea: Beijing accuses the US of militarization
Reuters: Japan to boost South China Sea role with training patrols with U.S.: minister
Image Courtesy of U.S. Pacific Command’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License