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Troubled waters: the South China Sea dispute

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By Euronews
Troubled waters: the South China Sea dispute

<p>With the world distracted by seemingly more immediate stories of war, migration and elections, a spat between the US and China wasn’t exactly headline news for many.</p> <p>It happened earlier this month (May) when a US spy plane flew over disputed territory in the South China Sea, prompting a strong exchange between Beijing and Washington.</p> <p>Some believe arguments over the contested waters could descend into a military conflict.</p> <h3>Why is the South China Sea so important?</h3><br /> <p>In short, money. </p> <p>Half of the world’s commercial shipping passes through the sea en-route from Europe and the Middle East to East Asia. </p> <p>Trade value is put at $5 trillion (4.58 trillion euros) every year, according to Reuters.</p> <p>But, perhaps more importantly, it is believed there are huge oil and gas reserves beneath the seabed.</p> <p>The World Bank <a href="http://www.cfr.org/china/south-china-sea-tensions/p29790">says the South China Sea has oil reserves of at least seven billion barrels</a> and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.</p> <p>This could provide China’s growing economy with energy security but is also of huge potential for smaller countries like Malaysia and Vietnam.</p> <h3>Who claims ownership of the South China Sea?</h3><br /> <p>The sea, <a href="http://iilj.org/courses/documents/BeckmanGeopoliticsILandSCS.pdf">which covers 3.5 million square kilometres</a>, borders so many countries: Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and, of course, China.</p> <p>China says nearly the whole sea belongs to it, contradicting competing claims from several other Asian nations including Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.</p> <p>China’s neighbours – and the US – fear Beijing will use the newly-created facilities for military use, cementing their claims over the sea.</p> <img src="https://static.euronews.com/articles/306719/606x775_south-china-sea-claims-map-606px.jpg"> <em>Country claims to South China Sea, shown in grey</em> <br /> <br /> <h3>Why is tension building?</h3><br /> <p>Tensions escalated when satellite images emerged in April appearing to show China building an airstrip on the Spratly Islands, a disputed territory. The construction work on reclaimed land can accommodate a runway around 3,000 metres long, according to <a href="http://www.janes.com/article/50714/china-s-first-runway-in-spratlys-under-construction">a report published in <span class="caps">IHS</span> Jane’s Defence Weekly</a>.</p> <p>There has also been claims China was building airstrips on Johnson South Reef in the Spratlys and Woody Island in the Paracel Islands.</p> <img src="https://static.euronews.com/articles/306685/600x338_Resize-China-land-reclamation-mischief-reef.jpg"> <em>Above: Chinese dredging vessels purportedly spotted in South China Sea (US Navy)</em> <br /> <br /> On Tuesday (May 26), China outlined a strategy to boost its naval reach in the region, saying it would go on the offensive if required. <p>It also unveiled two lighthouses in disputed waters, something likely to increase tensions further.</p> <iframe width="600" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4IRMFRZZUJ4" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <strong>US Navy video uploaded on 21 May, shows a P-8A Poseidon flying over new islands in the South China Sea.</strong> <br /> <br /> <img src="https://static.euronews.com/articles/306685/600x407_Resize-Philippino-boat.jpg"> <em>Filipino soldiers wave from old Philippine Navy ship in South China Sea</em> <p><div class="juxtapose" data-startingposition="84" data-showlabels="true" data-showcredits="true" data-animate="true" data-mode="horizontal"> <img src="https://static.euronews.com/articles/306685/600x600_Vietnam-atoll-2011.jpg" data-label="Before 2011" data-credit="REUTERS/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe/Handout"> <img src="https://static.euronews.com/articles/306685/600x600_Vietnam-atoll-2015.jpg" data-label="2015" data-credit="REUTERS/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe/Handout"> </div></p> <p><link rel="stylesheet" href="//cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/css/juxtapose.css"><script type="text/javascript" src="//cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/js/juxtapose.js"></script><br /> <em>Sandy Cay pictured in the South China Sea in 2011 (left) and in 2015 (right), purportedly showing land reclamation by Vietnam</em></p> <br /> <br /> <h3>What happens next?</h3><br /> <p>Taiwan put forward a peace plan on Tuesday (May 26) aimed at reducing tensions between China and its neighbours and the US.</p> <p>President Ma Ying-jeou called on those involved to shelve their disagreements and start talking about sharing resources.</p> <p>Launching <a href="http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/05/26/uk-taiwan-south-china-sea-idUKKBN0OB07T20150526">initiative</a>, Ma urged a peaceful resolution “before a major conflict breaks out.”</p> <p>Taiwan normally maintains a low key approach to such issues, but has coast guard and military facilities in the area. They include an airstrip and soon-to-be-completed port on Taiping Island, also known as Itu Abu, the largest natural land mass in the disputed Spratlys archipelago. </p> <p>Ma’s plan is similar to that proposed for the East China Sea, which opened the way for Taiwan and Japan to jointly fish in the contested waters.</p> <h3>How serious could it get?</h3><br /> <p>Launching Taiwan’s <a href="http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/05/26/uk-taiwan-south-china-sea-idUKKBN0OB07T20150526">peace initiative</a>, Ma urged a peaceful resolution “before a major conflict breaks out.”</p> <p>Hua Chunying, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said: “We believe Chinese people on both sides of the Strait have a duty to jointly protect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and safeguard the stability of the South China Sea region.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.euronews.com/newswires/3019328-china-to-boost-offshore-military-capability-defence-strategy-paper/"><span class="caps">REUTERS</span>: China moves from defence to offence in military strategy</a></p>