Why Does China Want The South China Sea

China’s Growing Economic Interests

China is becoming an increasingly influential power in the South China Sea region. There are many reasons why China is seeking to gain control of this area, largely centered around its growing economic influence and a desire to secure strategic resources.
China claims historical rights to most of the area in the South China Sea that it controls, a position that other countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Taiwan have disagreed with, leading to ongoing disputes over the sovereignty of various islands, reefs, and features. However, China’s ambitions in the South China Sea appear to be driven largely by economic interests.
China is the world’s largest trading nation and with rising living standards among its 1.4 billion citizens, the South China Sea is an ideal area for development. It is estimated that 17.7% of global shipping passes through the South China Sea every year, and control of this area would provide for considerable economic opportunities for China. The region is also rich in natural resources such as gas and oil, which could help fuel China’s growing economy.

Geopolitical Tensions

The South China Sea is also of great geopolitical importance. China wants the South China Sea in order to allow them to assert their influence in the region, far beyond its current land area. Control of the South China Sea would enable China to project its military and diplomatic power further by connecting itself to the Indian Ocean and, through that, to some of the most important trade routes in the world.
The South China Sea has regularly been a source of tensions between different countries, as disputes have been ongoing for decades between China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan over the rights to the various features in the sea. In addition, the United States has a strong interest in the area, as they have long viewed it as a key to potential escalation of tensions between the two powers.

Territorial Expansion

China’s ambition to build artificial islands and expand its territory into the contested South China Sea related to its desire to expand its presence in the region. In recent years, China has reclaimed large areas of the sea for its own use, building and militarizing islands and expanding existing ones. They have also constructed ports, underwater gas and oil pipelines, and other infrastructure in the disputed territories, further cementing their presence in the region.
This expansion of territory has been highly criticized by other countries, and the United States has been especially vocal in its opposition. The U.S. has conducted multiple maritime exercises in the area in an effort to demonstrate that it won’t stand by while China asserts its authority over the entirety of the South China Sea.

Political Objectives

China’s desire to gain control of the South China Sea is also driven by its desire to consolidate its international standing and increase its geopolitical power. The South China Sea is viewed as a valuable tool for China to divert international attention away from its human rights abuses, economic decline, and military activity on the Asian-Pacific region as a whole.
Furthermore, increasing control over the South China Sea is seen as a way for China to gain recognition as a major global power. China has used the South China Sea as a means of asserting its commitment to global governance, and promoting its own shared vision of the role of international institutions in the region.

Economic Implications

China’s ambition to control the South China Sea has major economic implications for the region. If China gains control of the waters and islands, it would have a profound impact on the existing supply chain in the region. It would also restrict access to vital economic resources and potentially deprive other countries of vital livelihoods.
Control of the South China Sea would also give China greater control over the lanes through which vital trade goods must pass, allowing them to exert influence over other countries in the region. This could potentially lead to economic distortions, as China could leverage its control over access to the sea to gain favor from other countries.

Environmental Issue

Environmental issues are also central to the debate about China’s ambitions in the South China Sea. China is accused of destroying coral reef ecosystems, which serve as breeding grounds for many marine species, and of damaging the marine environment through its construction projects. Other countries in the region have also criticized China for its lack of commitment to tackling climate change and the resulting threat to the region.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that international laws and regulations do not clearly define who has the right to the resources of the South China Sea, making it easy for China to take advantage of the ambiguity. This lack of legal certainty has allowed China to pursue its ambitions without being held accountable for any negative environmental impacts.

Disputed Territories

The various countries in the South China Sea region have competing claims over various areas of the sea, with some claiming that certain island chains and reefs belong to them. China has been particularly aggressive in asserting its own claims, often buttressing them with military force, much to the dismay of other countries in the region such as Malaysia and the Philippines. In result, there is considerable tension in the region, as other countries fear that China is attempting to consolidate its power in order to control vital maritime routes in the area.

Rulings from The Hague

The matter has often been taken to The Hague, an international court and tribunal, which issued a ruling in 2016 declaring that China’s claims to the South China Sea are largely unsupported and not in line with international law. However, China has brushed off the ruling, stating that it “poses no binding force” and will continue to defend its claims in the region.
The ruling was welcomed by other nations in the region, but it did little to challenge China’s growing control of the area. China has been able to brush aside The Hague’s ruling with relative ease, illustrating the lack of influence that international bodies have in dealing with the complicated issues arising from the South China Sea.

Growing Military Presence

In order to assert its control over the South China Sea, China has been ramping up its military presence in the area. The country has constructed an ever-growing number of military installations, including naval bases, missile posts, and airfields, in addition to increased surveillance and intelligence gathering operations.
This has further agitated the other countries in the region, leading to suspicions that China is attempting to use its military power to gain control over vital shipping lanes. In response, some countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, have strengthened their own militaries and increased their presence in the sea, in an effort to counter-balance China’s actions.

Regional Exploitation

China’s growing ambition in the South China Sea has also been met with accusations of regional exploitation. Through its militarization of various reefs and its refusal to recognize regional claims, China has been accused of trying to dominate the region and its resources.
Critics have argued that China’s actions are a form of neo-imperialism and colonialism, as the country is using its military and economic power to gain control over lands and resources that it has no claim to. They say that this could have a long-term impact on the region, particularly if China is able to impose its will on other countries in the South China Sea region.

Diplomatic Measures

In response to China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, other countries in the region, as well as the international community, have tried to push for diplomatic solutions to the issue. The most notable of these efforts has been the series of negotiations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, known as the Code of Conduct (COC).
The COC is a set of rules and guidelines aimed at ensuring a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea. The agreement seeks to promote cooperation and non-interference in the affairs of the various countries in the region, and to ensure that the use of the sea remains open and peaceful.

International Condemnation

The Chinese actions in the South China Sea have been widely condemned by many of China’s neighbors as well as the international community. The United States, Japan, and Australia, in particular, have called out China for its aggressive and uncompromising stance. This condemnation has, however, not been balanced with any real action, leading some to suggest that the international community is not willing to take a stand against a major power such as China.
The lack of a unified international response has allowed China to continue to pursue its interests in the South China Sea, despite the protests of other countries and the international community. While diplomatic efforts are still underway, it remains to be seen if, and to what extent, they will be successful in reigning in China’s ambitions in the region.

Ferne Chang is an avid sailor with a passion for all things maritime. She has a Master’s degree in Maritime Studies from the University of Liverpool which has enabled her to create a successful career in writing and research about world seas. She currently produces articles for online publications on topics ranging from shipbuilding to maritime law and cruising. Ferne also serves as a consulting editor for various maritime, trade, environment and policy journals. In her spare time, she enjoys sailing and exploring the world’s oceans with her family and friends.

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