The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometres (1,350,000 sq mi).It is located in the south of mainland China and the island of Taiwan,west of the Philippines,north west of Sabah (Malaysia), Sarawak (Malaysia) and Brunei,north of Indonesia,north east of the Malay peninsula (Malaysia) and Singapore, and east of Vietnam.
The minute South China Sea Islands, collectively an archipelago, number in the hundreds. The sea and its mostly uninhabited islands are subject to competing claims of sovereignty by several countries. These claims are also reflected in the variety of names used for the islands and the sea.
The South China Sea contains over 250 small islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars, most of which have no indigenous people, many of which are naturally under water at high tide, and some of which are permanently submerged. The features are grouped into three archipelagos (listed by area size), Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough Shoal:The Spratly Islands:The Paracel Islands:The Pratas Islands:The Macclesfield Bank: and The Scarborough Shoal. The region has proven oil reserves of around 1.2 km³ (7.7 billion barrels), with an estimate of 4.5 km³ (28 billion barrels) in total. Natural gas reserves are estimated to total around 7,500 km³ (266 trillion cubic feet).According to studies made by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Philippines, this body of water holds one third of the entire world's marine biodiversity, thereby making it a very important area for the ecosystem.
South China Sea claims
Several countries have made competing territorial claims over the South China Sea. Such disputes have been regarded as Asia's most potentially dangerous point of conflict. Both People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) claim almost the entire body as their own, demarking their claims within what is known as the nine-dotted line, which claims overlap with virtually every other country in the region. Competing claims include:Indonesia, China, and Taiwan over waters NE of the Natuna Islands:The Philippines, China, and Taiwan over the Malampaya and Camago gas fields.The Philippines, China, and Taiwan over Scarborough Shoal.Vietnam, China, and Taiwan over waters west of the Spratly Islands. Some or all of the islands themselves are also disputed between Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.The Paracel Islands are disputed between the PRC/ROC and Vietnam.Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam over areas in the Gulf of Thailand.Singapore and Malaysia along the Strait of Johore and the Strait of Singapore.
In the past ,China and Vietnam have both been vigorous in prosecuting their claims. The People's Republic of China and South Vietnam each controlled part of the Paracel Islands before 1974. A brief conflict in 1974 resulted in 18 soldiers being killed, and China has controlled the whole of Paracel since then. The Spratly Islands have been the site of a naval clash, in which over seventy Vietnamese sailors were killed just south of Chigua Reef in March 1988. Disputing claimants regularly report clashes between naval vessels.
A GROWING GLOBAL TENSION:
BEIJING (Reuters) – China urged the United States on Wednesday ,June 22nd ,2011,to leave the South China Sea dispute to the claimant states, saying that U.S. involvement may make the situation worse, its most direct warning to Washington in recent weeks.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai's comments to a small group of foreign reporters ahead of a meeting with U.S. officials in Hawaii this weekend come amid the biggest flare-up in regional tension in years over competing maritime sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.
Tension has risen in the region in the past month on concern that China is becoming more assertive in its claim to waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.
Part of the waters are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
"The United States is not a claimant state to the dispute in the South China Sea and so it's better for the United States to leave the dispute to be sorted out between claimant states," Cui said.
"While some American friends may want the United States to help in this matter, we appreciate their gesture but more often than not such gestures will only make things more complicated," he said.
"If the United States wants to play a role, it may counsel restraint to those countries that have been taking provocative action and ask them to be more responsible in their behavior," he said.
"I believe the individual countries are actually playing with fire and I hope the fire will not be drawn to the United States."
While China has called for disputes to be resolved bilaterally, others, including the Philippines, have urged a multilateral approach.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Eduardo Malaya told reporters in Manila the disputes "affect not just the claimant countries but the entire region itself and beyond, and thus call for a multi-stakeholder approach." He did not mention the United States.
Cui, who will co-host this weekend's consultations with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, emphasized that China was not responsible for the dispute and said it was greatly concerned by frequent provocations by other countries.
"We are troubled by some recent events in the South China Sea but we were not the party who provoked these incidents," he said.
"If you examine the facts closely, you will recognize who are the countries that have occupied islands under other countries' sovereignty by illegal means. It was certainly not China. Who are the countries that have done the most to explore oil and gas resources in the region? It was certainly not China.
"Who are the countries that displayed force or used force against the fishermen of other countries? Again, it was certainly not China."
China's claim is by far the largest, forming a large U-shape over most of the sea's 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
The latest spell of tension began last month when Vietnam said Chinese boats had harassed a Vietnamese oil exploration ship. China said Vietnamese oil and gas exploration undermined its rights in the South China Sea.
Cui said China has no intention of getting into military conflict with other countries, including Vietnam.
"We are now doing our best to maintain stability, to bring this problem back to dialogue and consultation between the relevant countries," he said. "If Vietnam has the same attitude and adopts a restrained and responsible stance, such military conflicts will not happen."
"If the U.S. takes the same attitude, such military conflicts are even more unlikely."
Navy ships from Vietnam and China held a two-day joint patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnamese state media reported on Tuesday, in a sign that tension over the disputed maritime border may be easing.
On Tuesday, two Vietnamese vessels docked in the city of Zhanjiang in China's southern Guangdong province -- the second port call by Vietnamese ships to China since 2009, Vietnam's People's Army newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The Philippines, meanwhile, is set to start repairs on facilities, including an airstrip, on islands it occupies in the South China Sea after construction material was unloaded at Pagasa (Hope) Island over the weekend. The Philippines says the repairs are not a violation of a 2002 code of conduct agreed between China and the Association of South East Asian Nations.
On the Thursday 11th June,2011, Japan's Defense Ministry reported that Chinese warships were spotted in international waters off the country's southern island of Okinawa.
No territorial violations were claimed by Japan, but the movements are sensitive because Japan and China have a dispute over small islands in the East China Sea.The ministry on Thursday said the Chinese warships were monitored passing from the Pacific Ocean into the East China Sea.
Ministry spokesman Shuichi Fukuya said they were believed to be returning from target practice and refueling exercises in waters about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) south of Okinawa.
He said the Japanese military saw the Chinese warships heading out to the area June 8-9.
Separately, the foreign ministry said a Chinese maritime research vessel briefly entered Japan's exclusive economic zone Thursday, around 330 kilometers (205 miles) off the coast of Miyagi, one of the worst-hit areas in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
A coast guard patrol vessel issued a warning against the Chinese ship, which left the economic zone around four hours later.
Courtesy:Wikipedia. TheHuffingtonPost.com . Reuters.