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Straight from the Specialists

South China Sea: The zero-sum game


(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The Chinese have shown far greater alacrity in resolving disputes over land boundaries with neighbours than in drawing lines across international waters that they claim. A nation with land borders with 14 countries has settled its disputes with 10 of them, but finds it difficult to resolve its problems in the South China Sea.

China’s claim lines envelop almost the entire sea. China and Vietnam already fought over the South China Sea in 1974 and 1988, and the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia are also vocal about what they say are Chinese transgressions into their waters.

The South China Sea is enviable maritime real estate. Through it run sea lanes that provide passage for more than half the world’s oil tanker traffic. Its hydrocarbon and mineral resources reportedly are substantial. Fishing rights also are essential for every country in the region.

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