3: China’s Security Interests and Strategies in the South China Sea

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The South China Sea (SCS) is at the strategic crossroads connecting Northeast and Southeast Asia on one hand and the Pacific and the Indian Ocean on the other. China is one of the countries bordering the SCS. China also claims sovereignty over four archipelagos in the SCS, including the Spratlys and Paracels (which China refers to as the Nansha and Xisha Islands respectively). Some of the claims are currently contested to different extents by other coastal states of the SCS.

According to official statistics from China, a total of 42 Spratly features have been successively occupied by other countries.1 In January 1974, as the result of a military clash at sea, China gained effective control over the entirety of the Paracels by defeating South Vietnamese troops stationed on some of the features. In March 1988, China again took control of six features of the Spratlys after a naval conflict with Vietnam. In 1994, China built facilities on Mischief Reef (Meiji Jiao) of the Spratlys, followed by protests from the Philippines.

With regard to China’s maritime rights and jurisdiction in the SCS, China claims that, under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it is entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf in this area, where China also claims historical rights. China’s maritime claims in the SCS also overlap with those of other coastal states.

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