China's Maritime Disputes

The East and South China Seas are the scene of escalating territorial disputes between China and its neighbors, including Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The tensions, shaped by China's growing assertiveness, have fueled concerns over armed conflict and raised questions about Washington's security commitments in its strategic rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.

We are strongly committed to safeguarding the country's sovereignty and security, and defending our territorial integrity.

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Mapping the Claims

Six countries lay overlapping claims to the East and South China Seas, an area that is rich in hydrocarbons and natural gas and through which trillions of dollars of global trade flow. As it seeks to expand its maritime presence, China has been met by growing assertiveness from regional claimants like Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The increasingly frequent standoffs span from the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, on China’s eastern flank, to the long stretch of archipelagos in the South China Sea that comprise hundreds of islets. The U.S. pivot to Asia, involving renewed diplomatic activity and military redeployment, could signal Washington’s heightened role in the disputes, which, if not managed wisely, could turn part of Asia’s maritime regions from thriving trade channels into arenas of conflict.

East and South China Sea Claims

China

China claims the largest share of territory in the South China Seas, basing its assertions on historical grounds demarcated by a nine-dash line it drew in 1947. It does not adhere to the international protocols set out by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and has clashed militarily with Vietnam and the Philippines over the Paracels and Spratly Islands. It has also resisted attempts to resolve the disputes through UNCLOS or regional body ASEAN, preferring to pursue conflict resolution bilaterally. China’s maritime claims extend to the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, where it has clashed with Japan. Rising nationalism in both countries and a long wartime history have escalated tensions despite highly interconnected economies.

Taiwan

Taiwan, where the Koumintang regime settled after defeat by communists on the mainland in 1949, adheres to the same nine-dash-line claim as China in the South and East China Seas. It currently has a presence on the Spratly and Pratas Islands.

Philippines

The Philippines claims the Paracel and Spratly Islands based on its EEZ and continental shelf zones. Tensions reached an inflection point with the Chinese occupation of the Spratly’s Mischief Reef in 1994, leading to the first instance of combat between China and an ASEAN member other than Vietnam. Much of Manila’s territorial tension with Beijing centers around competition for resource development, and skirmishes have erupted regularly since March 2011. In early 2013 the Philippines was the first claimant country to launch an arbitration case under UNCLOS against China’s South China Sea claims.

Malaysia

Malaysia claims some islets in the southern Spratlys, and has occupied five of them since 2009. In 1991, it developed a resort and built an airstrip on Swallow Reef to promote tourism, prompting fellow claimants, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and China, to protest. It clarified its claims in 2009 with the joint Vietnamese-Malaysian submission to UNCLOS on the limits of the continental shelf, and maintains a less confrontational relationship with China than other claimants.

Brunei

While Brunei has not made any formal claims or engaged in any confrontation with other claimants, it lays claim to the Louisa Reef and Rifleman Bank, two formations in the southern Spratlys, based on its EEZ. Brunei’s territorial claims overlap those of neighboring Malaysia, and juts into those of China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It does not occupy any of the islands, nor does it have a military presence in the South China Sea.

Japan

Japan claims it annexed what it calls the Senkaku Islands in 1895. It retained residual sovereignty over the islands after the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, and the United States returned full control of the territory to Tokyo after the Okinawa Reversion Treaty in 1971. Japan views the Treaty of San Francisco and this reversion agreement as validation of its sovereignty over the islands.

Vietnam

Vietnam has been one of the most vocal claimants in the South China Sea dispute. It claims the Spratly and Paracel Islands based on its EEZ and continental shelf zones, and joined Malaysia in May 2009 in a joint submission of territorial claims in the South China Sea to UNCLOS. Vietnam fought China in 1947 over the Paracels, which China occupied, and again in 1988 when China’s navy sank three Vietnamese vessels, killing seventy-four Vietnamese sailors on the Johnson Reef in the Spratlys. The confrontation marks China’s first armed conflict over the Spratlys, and one of the most serious military clashes in the South China Sea.

Provocations against Japan’s sovereign sea and land are continuing, but they must not be tolerated.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe

Historical Context

China’s maritime disputes span centuries. The tug-of-war over sovereignty of the Diaoyu/Senkakus in the East China Sea can be traced to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, while Japan’s defeat in World War II and Cold War geopolitics added complexity to claims over the islands. The fight over overlapping exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea has an equally complex chronology of events steeped in the turmoil of Southeast Asian history. Globalization—including extensive free trade pacts between claimants—and recent developments like the U.S. “pivot” to Asia have further connected the two disputes. As China’s economic ascent facilitates growing military capabilities and assertiveness in both seas, other regional players are also experiencing their own rise in nationalism and military capability, and have exhibited greater willingness to stake territorial claims.

Timeline: China’s Maritime Disputes

The territorial row over the Diaoyu/Senkakus in the East China Sea dates back to the end of the nineteenth century, while disputes over overlapping exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea have intensified in the last few decades.

Sino-Japanese War Ends

The Sino-Japanese war, fought primarily over control of Korea, ends with the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, in which China cedes territories including Formosa (Taiwan) to Japan. The treaty does not mention the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands (PDF), which were not discussed during negotiations. Beijing maintains that this transfer included the islands, while Japan claims that it had owned them since January 1895, when it officially annexed the uninhabited land. This distinction comes into play after the Second World War, when China says the islands must be returned to Chinese rule as a result of the Cairo and Potsdam declarations, which oblige Japan to renounce claims to all territories seized through war. Photo: Creative Commons

Japanese troops marching through Hainan Island in 1937. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Japanese troops marching through Hainan Island in 1937. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Japan Invades South China Sea Islands

After claiming exclusive rights over several South China Sea archipelagos, Japan occupies the Pratas Islands on September 3, 1937. The Japanese Imperial Navy lands on the Spratlys in December 1938 and invades Hainan Island the following February. Japan’s moves follow the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 1937—a battle between the Republic of China’s National Revolutionary Army and the Japanese Imperial Army—which marks the Japanese invasion of China. Japan’s military foray into the South China Sea (PDF) takes place during a decade in which France’s Indochina forces have also been present in the area, surveying the islands in the early 1930s and occupying the Paracels in 1938.

Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Come Under U.S. Control

After Tokyo’s surrender at the end of World War II, the United States assumes control of Japan. This includes the Ryukyu Islands, which Washington later interprets to include the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The greater Ryukyu Islands are seen as being of strategic significance at a time when communism is spreading in the region. The Kuomintang-led government of China makes repeated claims to the islands, and in April 1948 calls for their return. The U.S. occupation of Japan’s main islands lasts until the end of the Korean War in 1952, but the United States continues to occupy Okinawa until 1972. Photo: Corbis

China Marks South China Sea Claims

China, under the rule of the nationalist Kuomintang party, demarcates its territorial claims (PDF) in the South China Sea with an eleven-dash line on a map. The claim covers the majority of the area, including the Pratas Islands, the Macclesfield Bank, and the Paracel and Spratly Islands, which China regained from Japan after World War II. In 1953, the CCP government removes the portion encompassing the Gulf of Tonkin, simplifying the border to nine dashes. To this day, China invokes the nine-dash line as the historical basis for its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

A pointer indicates where disputed islands and territorial waters are situated in the map of China that includes the South China Sea, printed on page 8 of the new China passport, in Fuzhou, Fujian province, China 24 November 2012. Several neighboring countries have lodged diplomatic complaints on the territorial disputed part on the passports, for its 3.5 million square km is one of the world's shipping routes and holds rich fishing grounds. EPA/HE YUAN CHINA OUT

A map on a new Chinese passport includes the nine-dash line. Photo: EPA/He Yuan

People’s Republic of China Established

Communist leader Mao Zedong declares the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), ending the civil war that breaks out shortly after World War II between forces loyal to the Chinese Communist Party and those backing the Kuomintang. Defeated Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek flees to Taiwan, where he establishes a government in exile. The United States recognizes it as the sole legitimate government of China, and does not establish formal diplomatic ties with the PRC until 1979.

A propoganda woodcut of Chinese Communist Party members supporting Chairman Mao Zedong.

A propaganda woodcut of Chinese Communist Party members supporting Chairman Mao Zedong. Photo: Buyenlarge/Getty

Japanese prime minister Shigeru Yoshida signs the Treaty of San Francisco with the United States on September 8, 1951. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Japanese prime minister Shigeru Yoshida signs the Treaty of San Francisco with the United States on September 8, 1951. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

 

Treaty of San Francisco

The United States and forty-seven other nations sign the Treaty of Peace (PDF) with Japan in San Francisco, officially ending World War II. Japan renounces all claims to Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), the Pescadores, and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands are not explicitly mentioned in the treaty, though there is a tacit understanding that Japan will administer them as a part of Okinawa Prefecture. Japan is granted “residual sovereignty”—meaning full sovereignty would eventually be transferred to Japan—over the Ryukyu Islands; in turn, the United States is permitted to open military bases on Okinawa. Whether the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands were considered part of Okinawa or ceded to Taiwan after the treaty remains a contentious issue in the present-day debate over sovereignty in the East China Sea.

Demonstrators in Tokyo protest the U.S.-Japan security treaty in January 1960. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

Demonstrators in Tokyo protest the U.S.-Japan security treaty in January 1960. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

U.S.-Japan Security Treaty

The United States and Japan sign the bilateral Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, a ten-year, renewable agreement stipulating that any attack on territories under Japan’s administration would require action by both countries to “meet the common danger.” (In an analogous situation, the United States is bound by a 1951 mutual defense treaty with the Philippines.) Washington has consistently asserted that the treaty covers the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, though it has refrained from explicitly endorsing Japan’s sovereignty claim over the islands. Some analysts believe the U.S.-Japan treaty presents the biggest deterrent to a takeover of the islands by force.

UN Report Finds High Probability of Oil in East China Sea

After extensive geological surveys in 1968 and 1969, a report published by the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East finds “substantial energy deposits” in the seabed between Taiwan and Japan—the waters off the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The paper marks one of the first credible findings of hydrocarbon resources there, reigniting interest in the region. Although China has not previously disputed Japanese claims to the islands, it asserts its own sovereignty over them in May 1970, after Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan hold talks on joint energy exploration in the East China Sea.

A China National Offshore Oil Corporation oil rig in China's Bohai Sea. Photo: China Newsphoto/Reuters/Corbis

A China National Offshore Oil Corporation oil rig in China's Bohai Sea. Photo: China Newsphoto/Reuters/Corbis

Okinawa Reversion Treaty

The United States and Japan sign the Okinawa Reversion Treaty, in which Washington effectively returns full control of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan. The move is seen as reinforcing the U.S.-Japan security alliance, which President Richard Nixon considered to be the “linchpin” for peace in the Pacific. The boundaries set by the agreement (PDF) appear to include the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands since there was an understanding within the U.S. government that the territories were administered as parts of Okinawa. But the Nixon administration takes a neutral stance on their sovereignty; its priorities are retaining bases in Okinawa and normalizing relations with the PRC, which it hopes will help end the Vietnam War. In response to the reversion treaty, the ROC and PRC begin issuing claims to the islands, saying they have belonged to the Chinese since ancient times and have been administered by the province of Taiwan. Meanwhile, Japan views the reversion agreement with the United States as further validation of its sovereignty over the disputed islands. Photo: Getty Images

Japan and China Normalize Relations

China and Japan formally reestablish diplomatic relations after gradually rebuilding economic ties. In China, the failure of Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958–1962) preceding the Cultural Revolution resulted in mass starvation that forced Beijing to reevaluate its domestic policies and look to Japan for aid. The Sino-Japanese reconciliation (PDF) dovetails the rapprochement between the United States and China—a change in official political allegiance from Taipei to Beijing that is a crucial factor in the establishment of diplomatic ties between Japan and China. Nixon, whose administration has made normalizing relations with the PRC a diplomatic priority, visits Beijing the same year, establishing de facto relations with the country after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s visit in July 1971.  Trade between Japan and China surges in the period after normalization, deescalating the first round of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands disputes.

Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai toast to reconciliation on September 28, 1972. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images

Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka and Chinese premier Zhou Enlai toast to reconciliation on September 28, 1972. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images

China Claims Paracel Islands

A year after the Paris Peace Accords, which end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Chinese forces occupy (PDF) the western portion of the Paracel Islands, planting flags on several islands and seizing a South Vietnamese garrison. Vietnamese troops flee south and establish the first permanent Vietnamese occupation of the Spratly Islands. Meanwhile, Beijing builds a military installation, including an airfield and artificial harbor, on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels. After the fall of Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam, the newly formed Socialist Republic of Vietnam upholds the South's former claims to the Spratlys and Paracels. To this day, China maintains around one thousand troops in the Paracels.

A lighthouse on an islet in the Spratlys. Photo: Reuters/Corbis

A lighthouse on an islet in the Spratlys. Photo: Reuters/Corbis

Philippines Discovers Oil Field

After an extensive exploration program, the Philippines finds the Nido oil field off the coast of Palawan Island, marking the first oil discovery in the Northwest Palawan Basin. The discovery comes four years after the government passes the Oil Exploration and Development Act of 1972, which provides the legal basis for exploring and developing petroleum resources as Manila pushes for energy independence. Philippine Cities Service, Inc., the country’s first oil company, begins drilling a well in the Nido oil field and launches commercial production in 1979, yielding 8.8 million barrels that year. In 2012, the IMF notes (PDF) that the Philippines’ petroleum industry may have “significant potential” in the South China Sea, which is adjacent to the Northwest Palawan Basin.

An employee of Petron Corp, the Philippines' largest oil refiner, prepares empty fuel drums. Photo: Darren Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters

An employee of Petron Corp, the Philippines' largest oil refiner, prepares empty fuel drums. Photo: Darren Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters

Sino-Vietnamese War

China wages a short but bloody war with Vietnam, launching an offensive in response to Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1978, which ended the reign of the communist, Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge. The conflict marks the apex of tensions between Beijing and Hanoi, which were already running high after Vietnam established ties with the Soviet Union, China’s Cold War rival, the previous November. China had aided Vietnam in its wars against both France and the United States. Although both sides claim victory, China withdraws from Vietnam after less than a month, having failed to coerce Vietnam to leave Cambodia. Roughly thirty thousand are killed in the short-lived conflict, which marks the beginning of many border disputes between Beijing and Hanoi and bolsters Vietnam’s lingering distrust of China.

A Chinese tank crewman is captured during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images

A Chinese crewman is captured during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images

UNCLOS Is Established

After three decades of negotiations, the third and final United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, culminates in a resolution that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of surrounding waters based on exclusive economic zones and continental shelves. The measure comes into force on November 14, 1994, a year after Guyana becomes the sixtieth nation to sign the treaty. UNCLOS does not address sovereignty issues related to the South and East China Seas, and its vague wording has prevented it from serving as a credible body of law in resolving territorial disputes. Although the United States recognizes UNCLOS as customary international law, it has yet to ratify the treaty—a move that would give Washington a greater platform from which it could advance its economic and strategic interests.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg. Photo: Christian Charisius/Reuters

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg. Photo: Christian Charisius/Courtesy Reuters

China Sinks Three Vietnamese Ships

After roughly a decade of relative calm in the South China Sea, China and Vietnam clash on the Johnson Reef, marking China’s first armed conflict over the Spratly archipelago. The Chinese navy sinks three Vietnamese vessels, killing seventy-four sailors in one of the most serious military confrontations in the South China Sea. The incident occurs after Beijing, pursuing a more assertive stance in the area, establishes a physical presence on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys in January 1987. In response, Vietnam occupies several reefs to monitor China’s moves. The incident unfolds amid Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms of the 1980s, when Chinese economic activity begins shifting to the coastal provinces, and maritime resources become increasingly prized as hydrocarbons are needed to sustain growth.

The Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands. Photo: NASA

The Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands. Photo: NASA

China Passes Law on the Territorial Sea

China passes the Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, which lays claim to the entire South China Sea based on its historical right to the area dating from the Xia dynasty, which ruled between the twenty-first and sixteenth centuries BCE. The law employs more generous methods of territorial determination that would not necessarily be recognized (PDF) and justified by UNCLOS, signed a decade earlier. The move is seen by some as a bid by China to obtain greater maritime security for itself, as Beijing was one of the most active countries at UNCLOS in attempting to obstruct the United States and Soviet Union’s efforts to secure freedom of navigation for warships.

A map of Bohai Bay, drawn during the Xia dynasty.

A map of Bohai Bay, drawn during the Xia dynasty.

Mischief Reef Incident

Three Chinese naval vessels fight a ninety-minute battle with a Philippine navy gunboat near Capones Island in the Mischief Reef, part of the Spratly chain of islands claimed by Manila. The incident marks the first time China engages in military confrontation with an ASEAN member other than Vietnam. The clash, which triggers a crisis in Sino-Philippine relations, revives U.S.-Philippine military ties; soon after the incident, U.S. Navy SEALs conduct a joint exercise with their Philippine counterparts on Palawan Island, although Philippine president Fidel Ramos denies that this is connected to Manila’s row with Beijing. Tensions over the occupation subside by midyear, when the Philippines and China sign a nonbinding code of conduct that calls for a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute and the promotion of confidence-building measures. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

China-U.S. Military Agreement

China and the United States sign the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (PDF), the first bilateral military agreement between the two countries, which serves as a confidence-building measure after a period of frozen relations following the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. From the mid-to-late 1990s, the Clinton administration works toward security engagement (PDF) with Beijing as China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) begins to shift from being a mostly coastal defense force to operating a blue-water fleet beyond Chinese territorial waters. The accord aims to promote defense dialogue between naval forces to prevent misunderstandings. However, its efficacy is questioned in April 2001, when a Chinese F-8 interceptor and a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft collide over the South China Sea, killing a Chinese pilot.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Chinese president Jiang Zemin at a press conference on October 29, 1997. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Chinese president Jiang Zemin at a press conference on October 29, 1997. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

ASEAN and China Code of Conduct

China and the ten ASEAN states reach an agreement in Phnom Penh on the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, a code of conduct that seeks to ease tensions and creates guidelines for conflict resolution. The agreement comes after six years of negotiations. Beijing had previously insisted on bilateral negotiations with claimants; China’s signing marks the first time it accepts a multilateral approach to the issue. Though the declaration falls short of a binding code of conduct, as the Philippines had sought, it signals China’s recognition that such an agreement could work in its favor by limiting the risk of conflict in the area, which could involve the United States in the dispute. Photo: Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters

China, Japan Sign Joint Energy Accord

After years of dispute over gas fields in the East China Sea, Japan and China sign a Joint Energy Development Agreement that includes the potentially gas-rich Chunxiao/Shirakaba field. The two countries agree to explore four fields jointly, halt development in contested waters, and collaborate on joint surveys and investment. While the accord is hailed as a major step toward maritime cooperation on energy resources—a strategic priority for both countries—China soon begins to develop the Tianwaitian/Kashi field unilaterally in 2009, stirring protest from Japan. A year later Japan threatens to bring China to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea if China begins producing from the Chunxiao/Shirakaba field. Despite the milestone agreement, little has been done since then to increase joint resource development.

Former Chinese Foreign Ministry's Director of the Asian Affairs Department Hu Zhengyue shakes hands with Kenichiro Sasae, former head of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau in 2007. Photo: Koji Sasahara/Reuters/Pool (Japan)

Former Chinese Foreign Ministry's Director of the Asian Affairs Department Hu Zhengyue shakes hands with Kenichiro Sasae, former head of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau in 2007. Photo: Koji Sasahara/Courtesy Reuters

Vietnam, Malaysia Submit UN Claims

Vietnam and Malaysia file a joint submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend their continental shelves beyond the standard two hundred nautical miles from their coastlines, renewing friction over maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea. China views this as a challenge (PDF) to its territorial claims and objects to the submission, saying it “has seriously infringed” on China's “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands in the South China Sea. Vietnam’s claims are viewed as part of a campaign to bring the South China Sea issue to an international forum, beginning with a conference held in November 2009 in Hanoi.

Vietnamese fishing boats sail near the Spratly Islands in early 2013. Photo: Quang Le/Reuters

Vietnamese fishing boats sail near the Spratly Islands in early 2013. Photo: Quang Le/Courtesy Reuters

China Becomes World’s Biggest Energy Consumer

The International Energy Agency reports that China has surpassed the United States as the largest consumer of energy worldwide, consuming roughly 2.3 billion tons of total energy in 2009, approximately 4 percent more than the United States. China also becomes the second-largest consumer and net importer of oil, heightening the strategic importance of trade routes in the East and South China Seas for tanker shipments. The United States had been the world’s largest energy consumer since the early 1990s.

A Liberian tanker sails near a floating oil production vessel off the coast of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. Photo: Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters

A Liberian tanker sails near a floating oil production vessel off the coast of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. Photo: Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters

United States Affirms Interest in South China Sea

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton reiterates Washington’s neutrality on sovereignty in the South China Sea in a speech at an Asian regional security meeting in Hanoi, but affirms American interests in the “open access to Asia’s maritime commons.” The speech represents a rebuke to China, which had insisted on its rights to the islands and a bilateral approach to resolving disputes. It also comes at a time when military-to-military talks between Beijing and Washington are suspended and diplomatic relations are at a nadir, with China rescinding an invitation to host former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates in June and Chinese officials announcing in March that they would not tolerate outside interference. Clinton’s comments are viewed as an expansion of U.S. involvement in the disputes and a boon to Vietnam, which had been attempting to internationalize the conflict in hopes of a resolution.

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton attends the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi on July 22, 2010.  Photo: Na Son-Nguyen/Courtesy Reuters

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton attends the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi on July 22, 2010.  Photo: Na Son-Nguyen/Courtesy Reuters

Activists in Taipei burn a flag symbolizing Japan during a protest over the Chinese fishing boat captain's detainment. Photo: Pichi Chuang/Reuters

Activists in Taipei burn a flag symbolizing Japan during a protest over the Chinese fishing boat captain's detainment. Photo: Pichi Chuang/Courtesy Reuters

Chinese Boat Clashes With Japanese Coast Guard

A Chinese fishing boat collides with two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, prompting Japan to arrest the crew. Beijing protests the move, enforcing an unofficial embargo on rare earth minerals and arresting four Japanese businessmen for trespassing on a Chinese military facility. China also refuses a meeting between then premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan at the UN General Assembly. After two weeks of escalating tension, the two countries agree to release their respective citizens. Diplomatic relations finally thaw when Japan’s prime minister and China’s premier meet “coincidentally” on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Brussels in October, 2010. The incident underscores the fragility of the management of the territorial dispute, and sparks debate over Japan’s ability to defend its interests in the face of China’s rise.  

Philippines Summons Chinese Envoy

The Philippines summons a Chinese envoy to express its mounting concern about naval incursions in its claimed territory after recording at least five incursions by Chinese ships in the past year near the Spratly Islands and the Amy Douglas Bank, off the coast of Palawan Island. These incursions begin in early March, when Chinese surveillance ships force a Philippine vessel conducting surveys in the Reed Bank to leave the area. Both parties declare the incident as violations of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and the event sets off a series of skirmishes in the region between the two countries. The diplomatic standoff in June comes days after Vietnam protests China’s alleged harassment of its oil exploration ships; Vietnam had been working with multinational corporations, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, to develop hydrocarbon assets.

Philippine defense secretary Renato de Villa points out a Chinese-built structure in the disputed Spratly Islands to reporters. Photo: Courtesy Reuters

Philippine defense secretary Renato de Villa points out a Chinese-built structure in the disputed Spratly Islands to reporters. Photo: Courtesy Reuters

Philippines Renames South China Sea

In response to a spate of skirmishes with Chinese vessels, the Philippine government begins referring to the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea in all official communications, and in October 2012 signs an administrative order asserting its “inherent power and right to designate its maritime areas.” U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton also begins referring to the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea, affirming in a November 2011 joint press conference with her Philippine counterpart the “vigor” of the two countries’ alliance, particularly “at a time when the Philippines is facing challenges to its territorial integrity” in the oceanic region.

Philippine protestors rally outside the Chinese consulate in Manila in early 2013. Photo: Aaron Favila/AP/Corbis

Philippine protestors rally outside the Chinese consulate in Manila in early 2013. Photo: Aaron Favila/AP/Corbis

Obama Cites U.S. Strategic Rebalancing to Asia-Pacific

President Barack Obama makes a landmark speech to the Australian parliament, announcing the United States will pivot its strategic attention to the Asia-Pacific, particularly the southern part of the region. The Obama administration announces new troop and equipment deployments to Australia and Singapore, and pledges that reductions in defense spending would not come at the expense of commitments to the region. Negotiations continue on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement seen as a significant step toward greater U.S. economic integration with the Asia-Pacific. Notably, China is excluded from the talks. Photo: Charles Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters

Northeast Asia Leadership Transition

2012 heralds a landmark year for leadership transition in Northeast Asia, raising questions about how territorial disputes will factor into each administration’s agenda. Following a hearty election win, Shinzo Abe takes office as Japan’s prime minister for the second time on December 26. Shortly thereafter he publishes an op-ed in which he warns of the South China Sea transforming into “Lake Beijing,” and proposes a “democratic security diamond” comprising Japan, the United States, India, and Australia that would “safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the Western Pacific.” China also undergoes its high-profile, once-a-decade leadership transition in November, electing Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang as president and premier, respectively. Its military strategy continues to shift from land-based power to a maritime one, which its new leaders reinforce through an expansion and consolidation of marine agencies as well as rhetoric that refers to maritime rights as part of the country’s “core interests.” South Korea elects Park Geun-hye as its first female president in February 2013 amid heightened tensions over nuclear tests by the North. Photo: Yuriko Nakao/Courtesy Reuters

Scarborough Shoal Incident

Diplomatic relations between Manila and Beijing decline further after the Philippines dispatches a warship to confront Chinese fishing boats in the Scarborough Shoal, north of the Spratlys. China subsequently dispatches its own surveillance vessels to protect its fishermen and a two-month standoff ensues. As China quarantines some fruits from the Philippines and warns against tourism to the country, regional observers worry that tensions will impede economic relations; Philippine losses in banana exports in May are estimated at $34 million. Bilateral talks stall repeatedly over withdrawal from the shoal, and the Philippine government claims it is pursuing various avenues, including ASEAN involvement, legal options under UNCLOS, and an appeal to the United States for a guarantee of assistance in the case of military confrontation. Beijing maintains regular patrols that prevent Filipino fisherman from accessing these waters.

Philippine Navy personnel plant a flag at the disputed Scarborough Shoal. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Philippine Navy personnel plant a flag at the disputed Scarborough Shoal. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

A Vietnamese seaman stands guard at Thuyen Chai Island in the Spratly archipelago. Photo: Quang Le/Courtesy Reuters

A Vietnamese seaman stands guard at Thuyen Chai Island in the Spratly archipelago. Photo: Quang Le/Courtesy Reuters

Vietnam Passes Maritime Law

Vietnam passes a maritime law asserting its jurisdiction over the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands, demanding notification from any foreign naval ships passing through the area. China issues a strong response, announcing the establishment of a city, Sansha, on the Paracels that would administer the Paracels, Spratlys, and Macclesfield Bank. Relations between Hanoi and Beijing had been fluctuating; in May–June 2011, Chinese surveillance ships cut the cables of oil and gas survey vessels operated by Vietnam’s state-owned energy firm, PetroVietnam, but tensions eased the following October after a high-level visit by Vietnam’s general party secretary to Beijing produced a bilateral agreement outlining measures for handling maritime disputes. Hanoi had also been stepping up its defense budget, reportedly increasing it by 70 percent to $2.6 billion in 2011.

ASEAN Fails to Issue Communiqué

For the first time in its forty-five-year history, ASEAN fails to issue a communiqué at the conclusion of its annual meeting in Cambodia. Its ten members reach an impasse over China’s claims in the South China Sea, and member countries disagree over whether to include the territorial issue in the joint statement. This diplomatic freeze follows a maritime standoff between China and the Philippines in the Scarborough Shoal three months prior, and is widely seen as a failure for the regional body. Some observers view China’s influence on Cambodia, the 2012 rotating chair of the conference, as having caused the exclusion of the Scarborough Shoal and EEZ issues from the text, resulting in the deadlock.

ASEAN foreign ministers gather in Phnom Penh for a meeting in July 2012. Photo: Kyodo/AP Images

ASEAN foreign ministers gather in Phnom Penh for a meeting in July 2012. Photo: Kyodo/AP Images

Japan Buys Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands

The government of Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda signs a contract, worth two billion yen, to purchase three of the five disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands from private landowner Kunioki Kurihara. The move comes after Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara announces in April his intention to purchase the islands to protect their sovereignty. Japan defends the decision (PDF), saying it was to prevent Kurihara from developing the islands, but the purchase provokes an angry response from China just a month before its November leadership transition. In the subsequent weeks, some of the largest anti-Japanese protests since the countries normalized relations in 1972 erupt across China. Thousands march in more than eighty-five cities. The rupture has economic consequences, with Japanese companies in China reporting significant losses and air travel between the two countries dipping dramatically. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde warns that the protests have the potential to harm the global economy, calling the two countries “key economic drivers” and urging them to be “fully engaged.” Photo: Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters

China Claims Territorial Sea Baselines

In response to Japan’s nationalization of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Beijing declares territorial sea baselines around the land, announcing Chinese administration of the disputed islands and directly challenging Tokyo’s control. The move ends what analysts consider the status quo of Japanese administration of the area. As a result, two of China’s maritime agencies gain increased power over the waters and begin to increase their patrol in areas previously dominated by the Japan Coast Guard. In December, China submits to the UN an explanation of its claims to the disputed area in the East China Sea, arguing that “geological characteristics” show a natural prolongation of China’s land territory. U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton urges both sides to let “cool heads” prevail amid the flare-up.

Hong Kong activists land on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands with Chinese and Taiwanese flags on August 15, 2012. Photo: Yomiuri Shimbun/AP

Hong Kong activists land on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands with Chinese and Taiwanese flags on August 15, 2012. Photo: Yomiuri Shimbun/AP

A Chinese boy passes a photo of China's first aircraft carrier at an exhibition. Photo: Feng Li/Getty

A Chinese boy passes a photo of China’s first aircraft carrier at an exhibition. Photo: Feng Li/Getty

China Launches First Aircraft Carrier

China puts its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, into service, saying the vessel will protect national sovereignty, although for the near future it will only be used for training and testing purposes. The public launch comes a month before China’s once-a-decade leadership transition, indicating an effort by the Chinese government to forge national unity ahead of the high-profile event. The aircraft launch also marks a continuation of Beijing’s substantial naval modernization, which a U.S. Congressional report (PDF) notes is of concern, given its venture into the global maritime domain—a sphere long dominated by the U.S. Navy. 

Japan Increases Defense Budget

Newly elected prime minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet increases the country’s defense budget for the first time in eleven years, approving a 4.68 trillion yen ($51.7 billion) defense package for 2013, marking a 0.8 percent uptick. The spending increase, in addition to a 1.9 percent hike in the Coast Guard budget, comes as Abe’s administration bolsters Japan’s maritime capabilities and ability to monitor and protect the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The move worries some about Japan’s increasing nationalist rhetoric, which Abe fuels with his party’s April visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, viewed by China and South Korea as a memorial to war criminals, as well as references to overhauling his country’s status as a pacifist nation. Japan’s reticence to apologize for its historic militarism has also contributed to regional tensions. Photo: Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters

Japan Makes Southeast Asia Push

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe kicks off his first overseas trip in Vietnam, going on to visit Thailand and Indonesia in a push to diplomatically engage the region. Abe points to a “dynamic change” in the strategic environment of the Asia-Pacific, saying closer relations with ASEAN countries was in “Japan’s national interest” and contributes to the region’s peace and stability. Japan’s finance minister announces in May that Tokyo will strengthen its financial cooperation with ASEAN nations by buying government bonds, financing infrastructure development, and helping Japanese companies access funding in Southeast Asia. In the backdrop are ongoing negotiations for TPP talks, which Japan joins in March. Japan’s inclusion lends momentum to the free trade pact, which some observers see as the economic centerpiece of Washington’s Asia pivot and Japan’s push to ally itself more closely with Southeast Asia. The twelve-party talks include Southeast Asian nations such as Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. In late May, China’s Ministry of Commerce announces it is studying the possibility of joining TPP negotiations.

Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe speaks next to his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung during a news briefing in Hanoi January 16, 2013. Photo: Luong Thai Linh/Reuters

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe speaks next to his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung during a news briefing in Hanoi on January 16, 2013. Photo: Luong Thai Linh/Courtesy Reuters

Philippine and U.S. Marines conduct a joint military drill in Palawan Province, facing the South China Sea, on April 25, 2012. Photo: Dennis M. Sabangan/epa/Corbis

Philippine and U.S. marines conduct a joint military drill in Palawan Province, facing the South China Sea, on April 25, 2012. Photo: Dennis M. Sabangan/epa/Corbis

Philippines Files UN Arbitration Over China’s Sovereignty Claims

The Philippines initiates an international arbitration case under UNCLOS over Chinese claims of sovereignty to the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal originating from the April 2012 clashes, acting on decades of stalled attempts at resolution. China rejects the process, forcing the court and its arbitration to continue without its participation. The case marks the first time a country has brought a claim against China under UNCLOS regarding the issue.

China Consolidates Bureaucratic Control Over Maritime Agencies

The Chinese government consolidates control over its various maritime law enforcement agencies, grouping them under the State Oceanic Administration and effectively creating a unified coast guard with more concentrated capabilities. The move is part of a race to match Japan’s Coast Guard, which is the largest in the world. Photo: Courtesy Reuters

Japan Offers Military Aid

Japan offers military aid for the first time since the end of World War II, a bid to bolster its Southeast Asian regional alliances vis-à-vis China, providing $2 million for disaster relief training in East Timor and Cambodia, historically an ally of Beijing. As maritime threats from China increase, Tokyo considers selling military equipment, including seaplanes and, eventually, even shallow-water submarines, indicating a push to raise its influence in the region. In May 2013, Japan announces it will provide patrol boats to the Philippine Coast Guard to boost the country’s capabilities in the South China Sea and counter China’s growing maritime presence in the region. Japan’s outreach marks a visible shift from the nation’s traditionally pacifist foreign and defense policies. 

A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force seaplane takes off during a naval fleet review. Photo: Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force seaplane takes off during a naval fleet review. Photo: Yuriko Nakao/Courtesy Reuters

China Declares Air Defense Identification Zone

China’s Ministry of Defense announces the creation of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone that requires all non-commercial air traffic to submit flight plans prior to entering the area, which covers most of the East China Sea and includes the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. China announces it could take military action against aircraft flying near the islands, elevating the territorial dispute to airspace. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry immediately issues a statement expressing deep concern, urging China to “exercise caution and restraint,” while U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reaffirms Washington’s longstanding policy that the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty covers the disputed Islands. China and Japan summon each others’ ambassadors to lodge official complaints, while South Korea, the United States, and Japan all respond by sending military aircraft on patrols over the East China Sea.

Maecenas faucibus mollis interdum.

A Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force surveillance plane flies around the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Photo: Kyodo/Courtesy Reuters

To be realistic about it, how does one push around a superpower?

Philippine President Benigno Aquino

By the Numbers

$5.3 trillion in total trade passes through the South China Sea every year.

Source: The White House

There are 11 billion barrels of oil in South China Sea and 190 trillion cubic feel of natural gas.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

90% of Middle Eastern fossil fuel is projected to go to Asia by 2035.

Source: World Energy Outlook 2012 prepared by the International Energy Agency (IEA)

China's military spending has increased 175% since 2003.

Source: SIPRI Trends in Military Expenditure (PDF), 2012

Japan is donating 10 coast guard boats to the Philippines at cost of $10 million

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

More than 90% of China & Japan have unfavorable impressions of each other, the highest in nine years

Source: The Genron NPO

The South China Sea issue is not just about competing claims; it’s about peace and stability in the region.

ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh

Policy Options

Thousands of vessels ply the East and South China Sea waters, from fishing boats to coastal patrols and naval ships. Increasingly frequent clashes between China and its neighbors heighten the risk that miscalculations by sea captains or political leaders could trigger an armed conflict, which the United States could be drawn into through military commitments to allies Japan and the Philippines. Policy experts believe that a crisis management system for the region is crucial.

PREVENTIVE MEASURES

A range of preventive measures could ease regional tensions and de-escalate the risk of military conflict. Experts including Elizabeth Economy, Sheila Smith, Joshua Kurlantzick, and Simon Tay weigh the options.

Resource Sharing

Claimants in both the South China Sea and East China Sea could cooperate on the development of resources (PDF), including fisheries, petroleum, and gas. A resource-sharing agreement could include bilateral patrolling mechanisms, which would deter potential sources of conflict like illegal fishing and skirmishes arising from oil and gas exploration. More collaborations in the mold of joint fishery deals like those between China and Vietnam and Japan and Taiwan could mitigate risk by sharing economic benefits.

Military-to-Military Communication

Increased dialogue between military forces has the potential to reduce the risk of conflict escalation. Communication mechanisms like military hotlines to manage maritime emergencies, similar to the one set up by China and Japan and the one that China and Vietnam agreed to institute in June 2013, could be established among all claimants. These hotline systems would connect leaders in the event of a crisis that could arise from such mishaps as naval maneuvers misinterpreted by captains of merchant vessels or fishermen. Lastly, joint naval exercises could support greater military transparency and help develop shared rules of the road.

Building a Multilateral Framework

The development of a multilateral, binding code of conduct between China and ASEAN countries is often cited as a way of easing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The parties have already agreed upon multilateral risk reduction and confidence-building measures in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, but none have adhered to its provisions or implemented its trust-building proposals. While China has historically preferred to handle all disputes bilaterally, the resumption of negotiations between Beijing and ASEAN still holds promise for reinvigorating a multilateral framework toward greater cooperation and conflict resolution.

International Arbitration

Bringing territorial disputes to an international legal body presents another means of conflict mitigation. The International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea are two forums where claimants can file submissions for settlement. In July 2013, a UN tribunal was convened in The Hague to discuss an arbitration case filed by the Philippine government contesting the legality of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. An outside organization or mediator could also to be called upon to resolve the disagreement, although the prospect for success in these cases is slim given China’s likely opposition to such options.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT

In the event military conflict erupts, policy experts including Elizabeth Economy, Sheila Smith, and Shen Dingli outline a few immediate options facing the countries involved.

Diplomatic

Escalatory actions would likely trigger ramped up diplomacy. The United States could initially serve in a mediation role in the event of crisis erupting in either sea. In the South China Sea, mediation could also come from ASEAN or a trusted, neutral actor within the region like Singapore. Parties could also call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to negotiate a cease-fire, although China’s seat on the council could limit the effectiveness of this option. In the East China Sea, bilateral management of the dispute is the likely first option, with Beijing and Tokyo sitting down to negotiate a common guideline for handling the conflict and preventing its escalation.

Economic

Despite extensive trade ties, the parties to the dispute could respond to a rise in tensions by imposing economic sanctions. In response to a Chinese action, for instance, Washington could sanction financial transactions, the movement of some goods and services, and even travel between China and the United States. In retaliation, Beijing could bar U.S. exports and cut back on its extensive purchases of U.S. Treasuries. Claimants could also manipulate exports and relaunch boycotts of goods. Some signals of such a response have already been seen: in 2012 Chinese protesters launched a wave of boycotts of Japanese-branded products. Japan also accused China of halting exports of rare earth minerals after a territorial spat in 2010—a charge Beijing denied—causing a commodities crisis for resource-dependent Japan.

Military

If confrontation were to involve Japan in the East China Sea or the Philippines in the South China Sea, the United States would be obligated to consider military action under defense treaties. Experts note that Washington’s defense commitments to Tokyo are stronger than those to Manila. Under its treaty obligations, the United States would have to defend Japan in the case of an armed attack; the U.S.-Philippine treaty holds both nations accountable for mutual support in the event of an “armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties.” Military action would represent a last resort, and would depend on the scale and circumstances of the escalation. In the event of armed conflict breaking out between China and Japan, the United States could also use crisis communication mechanisms outlined in the U.S.-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (PDF) to encourage a stand-down of forces and facilitate communication between Tokyo and Beijing. Verbal declarations that communicate the seriousness of the dispute and convey support for an ally, as well as offers of military assistance, can also serve as essential “coercive de-escalation” measures during a crisis.

This is the future we seek in the Asia-Pacific—security, prosperity and dignity for all ... let there be no doubt: in the Asia-Pacific in the twenty-first century, the United States of America is all in.

U.S. President Barack Obama

Resources

experts

Shen Dingli

Professor of International Relations, Fudan University

Elizabeth Economy

C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, CFR

Richard Haass

President, CFR

Joshua Kurlantzick

Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, CFR

Sheila A. Smith

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, CFR

Simon Tay

Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs

further-reading

General/Overview

Stirring Up The South China Sea: Regional Responses (July 2012)

This report from the International Crisis Group profiles regional positions in the South China Sea dispute, outlining each claimants’ relationship with China.

Cooperation from Strength: The United States, China and the South China Sea (January 2012)

Regional expert Patrick Cronin and other scholars discuss diplomacy, security, resources and Washington’s role in the South China Sea in this Center for a New American Security report.

Japan and the South China Sea: Forging Strategic Partnerships in a Divided Region (January 2013)

This Institut Français des Relations Internationales paper discusses Japan’s deepening engagement with Southeast Asia.

Making Process, Not Progress: ASEAN and the Evolving East Asian Regional Order (Summer 2007)

This article details ASEAN’s checkered history as a regional group.

The Challenge of Revisionism: The Expanding Role of China’s Non-Military Maritime Vessels (February 2013)

This report from the Center for a New American Security examines the role of China’s maritime agencies in destabilizing the region.

A Game of Shark and Minnow (October 2013)

This New York Times presentation profiles a Filipino ship in the Reed Bank and highlights the ongoing conflict in the South China Sea.

Timeline

China’s Maritime Disputes in the East and South China Seas (April 2013)

This congressional testimony by Michael Swaine of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace addresses the origins and drivers of China’s maritime disputes and provides a timeline of major events.

Dangerous Waters: China-Japan Relations on the Rocks (April 2013)

The International Crisis Group’s report on the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute delves into the history and perspectives of the conflict, and outlines the challenges of crisis mitigation.

Legitimacy and the Limits of Nationalism: China and the Diaoyu Islands (Winter 1998–1999)

This article discusses the role nationalism has played in China’s territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan and the Territorial Disputes in East Asia (January 2002)

This paper article details some of the historical complexities of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands disputes during the postwar period.

As China Meets the Southern Sea Frontier: Ocean Identity in the Making, 1902-1937 (Fall 2005)

This paper delves into China’s historical approach to the South China Sea region and its rise in strategic significance.

50 Years from San Francisco: Re-Examining the Peace Treaty and Japan’s Territorial Problems (Autumn 2001)

This paper discusses Japan’s territorial claims on the East China Sea through a historical lens.

The Paracels: the ‘Other’ South China Sea Dispute (July 2001)

This paper examines the Paracel dispute between China and Vietnam and its impact on Sino-Vietnamese relations.

By the Numbers

South China Sea (February 2013)

This U.S. Energy Administration report provides data on resources in the South China Sea.

Economic Outlook (June 2013)

This OECD database offers statistics for economic projections and outlooks.

Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2012 (April 2013)

Independent institute SIPRI maps trends in global military expenditures in this report.

ASEANstats

This ASEAN resource provides a range of statistics for the region.

Policy Options

Armed Clash in the South China Sea (April 2012)

This CFR Contingency Planning Memorandum by regional expert Bonnie Glaser examines the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea.

A Sino-Japanese Clash in the East China Sea (April 2013)

This CFR Contingency Planning Memorandum by Senior Fellow Sheila Smith discusses options to reduce tensions between China and Japan in the East China Sea.

Flashpoints: The Way Forward in the East and South China Seas (March 2013)

Center for New American Security expert Patrick Cronin discusses the deteriorating security environment in the East and South China Seas in this report.

glossary

ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The ten-member regional group includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, SIngapore, Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

DOC

The Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. A code of conduct signed by China and the ten ASEAN states that seeks to create guidelines for resolution of territorial disputes.

EEZ

Exclusive Economic Zone. A zone adjacent to the territorial sea, not extending beyond two hundred nautical miles from the nation’s baseline, where a state has rights to govern its resource and economic development.

JMSDF

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. Its naval fleets maintain control of the country’s sea lanes and patrol territorial waters, including those in the East China Sea.

PLA

The People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China. As the principal body of China’s armed forces, the PLA comprises the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery Force.

UNCLOS

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The resolution defines rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of surrounding waters based on exclusive economic zones.

educational-resources

These discussion questions, essay questions, activities and assignments, and supplementary resources are designed to help educators use the “China's Maritime Disputes” InfoGuide in the classroom through an active, learner-centered approach.

Discussion Questions

Ideas for questions to use in facilitating full-class discussions, assigning small group discussion topics, or posting on a class discussion board. Questions allow students to critically reflect on the material provided in the InfoGuide and hone their communication skills.

Essay Questions

Suggestions for essay topics that enable students to dive deeper into the material found in the InfoGuide and conduct their own research and analysis.

Activities and Assignments

In-class activity ideas and homework assignments based on “China’s Maritime Disputes” that promote participatory learning and critical thinking. These can be adapted based on students’ levels and classroom needs. For high school teachers, these activities are accompanied by a list and description of the Common Core State Standards they meet.