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Course Correction

How to Stop China's Maritime Advance

Troublemaker: a Chinese ship harassing a U.S. one in the South China Sea, March 2009. U.S. Navy

The South China Sea is fast becoming the world’s most important waterway. As the main corridor between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the sea carries one-third of global maritime trade, worth over $5 trillion, each year, $1.2 trillion of it going to or from the United States. The sea’s large oil and gas reserves and its vast fishing grounds, which produce 12 percent of the world’s annual catch, provide energy and food for Southeast Asia’s 620 million people.

But all is not well in the area. Six governments—in Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam—have overlapping claims to hundreds of rocks and reefs that scatter the sea. Sovereignty over these territories not only serves as a source of national pride; it also confers hugely valuable rights to drill for oil, catch fish, and sail warships in the surrounding waters. For decades, therefore, these countries have contested one

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