News / Asia

    Five Nations Claim Disputed Island Chains

    South China Sea Territorial Claims
    South China Sea Territorial Claims
    Rival Claims

    China’s recent establishment of Sansha city, an administrative municipality based on three islands in the South China Sea, has led to increasing tensions in recent weeks over which of six different governments has a legitimate claim to all or parts of the Spratly and Paracel island chains.

    The islands and their surrounding waters, uninhabited except for a few troops meant to establish claims to the territory, are rich in natural resources and home to some of the world's busiest shipping lanes, making them attractive real estate.

    But among the governments of China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, which claims are the most valid? What are those claims based on?

    China claims all of the islands, saying that for more than 2,000 years, the Chinese people have considered the islands as part of their nation. Beijing also points to a 1947 political map drawn up by the then-Nationalist Kuomintang government that marks all of the islands as its territory.

    Vietnam also claims the islands on a historic basis, saying it has occupied the islands at least since the 17th century, before any nation had declared sovereignty over them, giving it a rightful claim to the territory. It points to an 1838 Vietnamese map showing the islands as part of its territory.

    But the three other nations - plus Taiwan - each claim parts of the territory based on what is known as UNCLOS, or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which says nations can claim an Exclusive Economic Zone extending 200 nautical miles into the waters surrounding their coastlines. They may also make further claims based on the continental shelf extending from their shores.

    Law of the Sea

    Dr. Suzette Suarez, director of the Center for International Ocean Law, notes that determining title to a territory is anchored on two factors. “There must be an intentional display of power and effective control, and the exercise of state functions must be peaceful and continuous,” says Suarez.  She says that under UNCLOS, China’s claim doesn’t have any standing, because many features within the line haven’t been continuously occupied and not all of the line is adjacent to a land feature.

    Conflict

    After a series of recent clashes between naval vessels and fishermen over fishing rights in the disputed territories, there has been some worry about the possibility of a violent confrontation and further escalation involving China and other claimant states.

    One expert at the Council on Foreign Relations was quick to respond to fears that the dispute may spiral out of control. Southeast Asia expert Joshua Kurlantzick notes, “I think it’s likely to escalate, but that violent conflict is unlikely. China is quite pragmatic.”

    Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department took the unusual step of weighing in on the matter, issuing a statement encouraging the claimants to work out a long-delayed code of conduct on the region in negotiations between China and the regional bloc Association of

    South East Asian Nations

    Some observers say Beijing does not want the 10-member bloc to unify on the matter because China would rather deal with its smaller rival claimants separately.  China says such allegations are Western attempts to stoke mistrust and enmity between China and its neighbors.

    If history is any indicator, rival territorial claims in the South China Sea are likely to last far into the future. But at least for the moment, the area is at an uneasy peace.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora