South China Sea Armed Confrontation

South China Sea Armed Confrontation

An armed confrontation in the South China Sea between China and one or more Southeast Asian claimants to disputed maritime areas

 

Territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea could escalate into a military clash between China and one or more Southeast Asian nations. China’s sweeping claims to sovereignty over the sea—and its untapped 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—have antagonized competing claimants Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. China has warned its Southeast Asian neighbors against drilling for oil and gas in the contested region, disrupting other nations’ oil exploration and seismic survey activities.

The United States, which maintains important interests in ensuring freedom of navigation and securing sea lines of communication, has expressed support for an agreement on a binding code of conduct and other confidence-building measures. However, Washington’s defense treaty with Manila could draw it into a Sino-Philippine conflict over the substantial natural gas deposits in the disputed Reed Bank or the lucrative fishing grounds of the Scarborough Shoal. The failure of Chinese and Southeast Asian leaders to resolve the disputes by diplomatic means could undermine international laws governing maritime disputes and encourage destabilizing arms buildups.
 

Background Information
Breaking News on an Armed Confrontation in the South China Sea
    Primary Sources
    Latest CFR Analysis
    Related CFR Experts