Beijing and the South China Sea

As President Xi Jinping tours the western world advocating Chinese businesses, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues incrementally asserting dominance over territory in the South China Sea. Territorial claims in the South China Sea have been contentious for centuries, but recent land reclamation attempts by China have made it a global security issue. The U.S. Navy is now reportedly preparing to patrol within the 12 mile zone that surrounds the Chinese man-made islands, an act that Beijing sees as one intended to provoke a response from the PLA.

Six countries- China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan—all lay claim to islands in the South China Sea.  These countries base their claims on history as well as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  UNCLOS gives nations “Exclusive Economic Zone” (EEZ) authority extending out to 200 nautical miles off their coastline.  The country has sole exploitation rights over natural resources in that EEZ. China, however, also lays claim to an area within a “nine-dash line,” which incorporates about 80 percent of the South China Sea and extends far beyond what would be considered a Chinese EEZ.

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