Everyone wants the South China Sea

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Islands and oil attract tensions and attention.

Late 2013 saw the release of the fourth series of Battlefield, an American videogame that’s all the rage among teenagers the world over. One of its missions is entitled ‘South China Sea’. It’s plot? A platoon of American soldiers engages in combat against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in these very waters.

Caught in a crossfire involving weapons and territorial rights, the South China Sea question has been making headlines again since 2010, when the US stepped in to act as mediator to resolve the disputes over the Paracel and Spratly islands, to which many neighbouring countries are staking a claim.

China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, besides geographically encircling this large area of sea covering 3,500,000 square kilometres (or 1.3 million square miles), all claim sovereignty over its islands and exploitation rights over all its resources.

The dispute over the South China Sea – known as Nan Hai (South Sea) to the Chinese, Bie’n Ong (East Sea) in Vietnamese and recently renamed Dagat Kanlurang Pilipinas (West Philippine Sea) by Manila – has become a geopolitical conundrum that involves virtually all of the countries in the region, as well as the United States, albeit for different reasons.

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