Professor Richard Maass
Introduction to International Relations
Will China Rule the South China Sea?
China has claimed the South China Sea since the Han Dynasty dating all the way back to 206 BC.1 Since then, there has never been a time in history when China did not consider themselves to have Sovereignty over the sea and its territories. Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia also claim Sovereignty on parts of the sea.2 New developments and contemporary issues have brought conflict over control of the sea. The presence of the U.S, increased value of ocean resources, and aggravation of other Asian states over China’s expansion of dominance may cause this to be an international struggle for military and economic hegemony.3 In the event of an international level confrontation, China will attain Sovereignty of the South China Sea due to economic leverage, expansion of naval military, diplomatic delay.4
The South China Sea is a nirvana of resources and a critical transit point for global commercial shipping. This makes it a prime region to exploit for enterprise. States with overlapping claims have accomplished this as well, but China is the major trading partner in the region. After the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement, China has arranged a plenty of financial projects with the region and different states giving it monetary influence.5 This also includes the U.S. In 1992 China announced an agreement with U.S oil companies to explore for oil on Spratly Island.6 The islands are heavily disputed by the other states which each claim parts of it. U.S. corporations participating in off-shore exploration in the quarreled islands with China have a commercial stake in how inter-state tension and disputed claims are resolved. China has also recently began developing oil and gas reserves over territory that is essentially claimed by Vietnam.7 China's state oil firm China National offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) sent a billion dollar rig to drill in May 2014.8 It caused massive tension with Vietnam, including physical confrontations, but left an open window for future drilling after it retreated.9 The span of China's energy market and the developing worldwide clout of its oil organizations provide some exceptional strength in dealings with international oil firms. It also holds an influence over corporations deciding to work with other states in the South China Sea. In 2006, the oil giant Chevron signed with Malaysia's state oil company to explore an area east of Vietnam.10 China warned Chevron executives its operations there violated Chinese sovereignty, and Chevron decided not pursue work in the area, citing China-Vietnam dispute as the reason.11 China is also using non-oil and gas related economic activity to establish their control over the region. China is also using a commercial method in the seas with a heavy political undertone. In 2013 China launched a cruise ship full of tourists in the Paracel Islands, which are a heavily disputed region of the South China Sea.12 Aside from being another economic tie to the sea, it serves a purpose of further asserting Chinese dominance over the area. With a ship full of unarmed tourists, other states cannot militarily intercept the Chinese presence in disputed territory.13 Rapid growth of the Chinese navy and air force in the South China Sea will establish and defend Sovereignty. When China began drilling for oil while escorted by 80 ships and vessels in disputed waters also claimed by Vietnam, tensions escalated to nearly explosive measures.14 China was accused of ramming into the Vietnamese vessels but holds they were in their territorial waters, and that they were provoking the Chinese as well as disrupting their drilling activities.15 China has proven it will defend their claims, and has taken measures to build a strong military and civilian presence in the South China Sea. For example, since 2000 the Chinese military has transferred eleven former warships to