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Why China Is Building Artificial Islands To Control The South China Sea

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  • Introduction to Video Content
  • China's territorial disputes with India and Taiwan are well-known, but it is their claims in the South China Sea that have the potential to become a major conflict in East Asia. This article explores why China is so desperate to control the entirety of the South China Sea and discusses the competing claims of Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia. The South China Sea has been a significant trading route for centuries, attracting merchants from China, India, and Arabia. European colonial powers also established a presence in the area, further increasing its importance. The article highlights the China-France War in 1885 as a turning point in the territorial disputes over the South China Sea's waters.
  • Subtitles section
  • China is no stranger to territorial disputes.
  • Its ongoing conflicts with India and Taiwan over claimed land is well known, but while those claims are both very serious geopolitical events unto themselves, it's their claims in the South China Sea that really stand out as a potential flashpoint for East Asia at large.
  • So why is China so desperate to control the entirety of the South China Sea?
  • Hello And welcome to Geography by Jeff!
  • The South China Sea is a hot commodity these days, and it's an area that could become an even larger global conflict unless something changes in the near future.
  • Because while China pretty much claims the whole thing, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia each have their own claims as well.
  • And no one seems to be letting any of it go.
  • But before we dive into the South China Sea, if you're a fan of my channel, be sure to subscribe to my substack as well.
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  • The South China Sea, stretching over 1.4 million square miles, has been a significant trading route for nearly a thousand years.
  • Chinese, Indian, and Arab merchants attracted by the spice trade sailed these waters, establishing the region as a crucial link between the East and the West.
  • And with European colonial power setting up a presence in the area starting in the 1500s, the South China Sea only grew more important, becoming a central hub of the global trade network.
  • But it would be the China-France War in 1885 that would start to muddy the waters a bit over who would actually be able to claim the territorial waters of the South China Sea.
  • After China lost the war, it would go on to sign the Convention Relating to the Delimitation of the Frontier between China and Tonkin.
  • And while this document clearly laid out the land border between China and French Indochina – today, Vietnam – it did not include any language about the South China Sea.
  • But it would take a few more years before this would really become an issue.
  • In the aftermath of World War II, claims over the South China Sea became contentious.
  • In 1947, China issued a map featuring an 11-dash line, later reduced to 9, illustrating its claims over the majority of the South China Sea.
  • This claim encompasses numerous islands, reefs, and shoals, including the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands.
  • It's this exact 9-dash line that continues to cause so many problems today.
  • However, the expansive claim of China clashes with the territorial assertions of several other countries.
  • Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan all lay claim to different parts of the South China Sea.
  • Taiwan, technically claiming everything that China does due to their shared history, has similar claims as China.
  • Vietnam asserts historic rights over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, citing centuries-old records.
  • The Philippines claim a portion of the Spratly Archipelago closest to its mainland, an area it has named the Kalayan Island Group.
  • Malaysia and Brunei, on the other hand, lay claim to territory in the South China Sea on the basis of their exclusive economic zone, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • But while many of these countries have their own South China Sea disputes with each other, it's really China that is causing most of the issues in the region.
  • Their claim to everything and dominance within the region overall has led to them being confident enough that they can just take the sea over everyone else and, more importantly, enforce those claims.
  • China's claims on the South China Sea are dubious at best, but that hasn't stopped them from taking some pretty extreme measures to enforce their claims on everyone else.
  • Which makes sense because China is desperate to control this part of the ocean.
  • But before we get to why China wants to control all of the South China Sea, if you're enjoying this video, hit that subscribe button.
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  • Despite sharing the same name, China doesn't just want to own the South China Sea because of dubious historical records.
  • There's actually quite a bit within this part of the ocean that would make it very attractive to any country that could legally claim ownership.
  • And it's for this reason that we see so many countries want to claim at least a part of it as their own.
  • China, however, wants almost all of it.
  • And there are very key reasons for that.
  • For one, the entire South China Sea is incredibly rich in natural resources.
  • The sea is home to some of the most fertile fishing waters in Asia, though they're rapidly being depleted.
  • China gets roughly 25% of their protein diet from seafood so securing large quantities of fish is a must for the country of 1.4 billion people.
  • But the South China Sea is home to vast quantities of oil as well.
  • While not confirmed, there's an estimated 105 billion barrels of oil lying underneath the sea.
  • And again, for a country that has a large population, being able to secure that you have ample quantities to supply that population is a pretty high priority.
  • But beyond simple resources, the South China Sea is a crucial sea route connecting the oceans.
  • If China were to successfully control it, it would allow China the ability to regulate all maritime traffic within the region, giving it a strategic advantage in terms of military and trade operations.
  • Mostly over its nearest neighbors, but also over geopolitical rivals such as the United States.
  • Finally, China, despite being such a large and wealthy country these days, is still constantly contending with an established global order that is perceived to be very US and Europe centric.
  • In this way, China not being able to assert its claims is almost a global slap in their face.
  • If China were able to successfully control the South China Sea against the efforts of their nearest neighbors and the global community, it would signal that they're able to dictate rules in much the same way that they perceive the United States and Western Europe to do today.
  • It's for all of these reasons that China is not willing to give up an inch of claimed water.
  • And this has led to some pretty dicey situations which could become much more dangerous in the future.
  • The South China Sea, which it should be noted here is called different things by different countries in the region, is at the center of what could turn into a global conflict pretty quickly unless China eases off their claims a bit and starts negotiating in good faith.
  • The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei all have their own rightful claims to this region.
  • And the precise reason for all of these claims revolve around control over large quantities of shallow islands, reefs, and shoals within the sea which are used to define rights over the surrounding waters.
  • But while all of these countries have claims, it's really China's conflict with Vietnam and the Philippines that makes this area so unsettling.
  • Between China and Vietnam, the South China Sea has been a particularly contentious area with both claiming sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
  • Historical tensions have escalated into violent confrontations as evidenced by the Paracel Islands Naval Battle in 1974.
  • China seized control of the islands from South Vietnam, a country which no longer exists, but is still triggering a prolonged diplomatic strain between China and modern-day Vietnam.
  • The Spratly Islands have also witnessed numerous skirmishes over the years, with the Johnson South Reef Skirmish in 1988 standing out, resulting in several Vietnamese casualties.
  • Smaller incidents have continued into the present, typically involving fishing vessels and law enforcement shifts from both sides.
  • Similar territorial conflicts exist between China and the Philippines over parts of the Spratly Islands.
  • The conflict peaked with the Mischief Reef incident in 1995, when China established a presence on an atoll well within what the Philippines claims as its exclusive economic zone.
  • The dispute took another twist in 2012 with a standoff at Scarborough Shoal, further straining the relationship between the two nations.
  • This eventually led the Philippines to seek international arbitration against China's territorial claims in 2016, which it won, but China doesn't recognize.
  • Meanwhile, Brunei and Malaysia have not engaged directly in conflict with China over their claims, but have expressed concern and tensions are steadily rising overall.
  • So while no physical altercations have occurred up to this point, that could change unless, once again, China is willing to negotiate, which they don't appear to be.
  • All of this is happening while China continues to build artificial islands with advanced military installations in order to control the region.
  • These islands have dramatically increased tensions over the waters in recent years as China takes a more direct approach to control.
  • Moreover, this has drawn international attention and concern, particularly from the United States, adding further layers of geopolitical complexity to the region.
  • As it stands, the South China Sea remains a significant focal point for regional tensions, posing challenging questions about territorial integrity, maritime rights, and international law.
  • Complicating matters in all of this is the United States' ongoing involvement in these disputes.
  • The U.S., though not a claimant in the South China Sea, has played an active role in the region due to its strategic and economic interests.
  • First and foremost, the U.S. actively and frequently sails military vessels through the South China Sea in order to maintain that the region is able to be freely traveled through under the law of international waters.
  • Given that the South China Sea is one of the world's most vital sea lanes, the U.S. has a vested interest in maintaining the freedom of navigation in these waters, which aligns with its broader commitment to open access to the global commons.
  • Beyond that, claimants such as the Philippines and Taiwan are key allies, and others such as Vietnam and Malaysia are key trading partners.
  • For the United States to cede these waters to China would be seen as turning its back on the countries it needs to help counterbalance China's growing ambitions in the Pacific.
  • Finally, and more to that point, the U.S. has taken a strategic goal to try and rein in China's influence on the region at large.
  • And while this is playing out in many different areas across Asia, such as with North Korea and Taiwan, the South China Sea is definitely a flashpoint between the two countries.
  • The U.S. has continually expressed concerns about China's increasing militarization in the South China Sea, viewing it as an attempt to assert control over the region, which could potentially upset the strategic balance and stability in the Pacific Ocean.
  • As such, the U.S. has begun to divert more military resources to this part of the world.
  • China is no stranger to aggressive claims of land and territory, and with a rising economy and military, they feel justified in flexing their muscles just a bit.
  • But if they don't ultimately back down, one minor conflict could spin out into a much larger global conflict, and that would have reverberating impacts around the world.
  • I hope you enjoyed learning more about the South China Sea and the issues surrounding it.
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  • Thanks for watching, see you next time.