The South China Sea dispute: A new flashpoint in the making?

Even though the territorial disputes in the South China Sea is nothing new, the recent confrontations among China, the Philippines, and Vietnam have sparked global concerns. It is being feared that the region is becoming a new flashpoint with serious security consequences. Six countries have made territorial claims over the South China Sea or its two major archipelagos-Spratly and Paracel.1 Many of the so-called “islands” are merely rocky outcroppings or coral reefs that are underwater at high tide, but their strategic and economic importance reach far beyond their actual size. Some 25 percent of the world’s shipping passes through the waters of the South China Sea. Moreover, there is the possibility that the area contains huge amount of oil and gas resources. A Chinese report in 1989 estimated that the area contains more than 100 billion barrels of oil. Since the 1970s, the sovereign disputes over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos have generated a number of armed conflicts in the South China Sea.