China’s been getting into some serious water fights with its neighbors. Welcome to the South and East China Sea disputes.
Seas that are -- yup -- south and east of China. They’re both part of the Pacific Ocean. And they both contain islands that have started big-time feuds between Asian countries.
Depends who you ask. Countries including China, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim parts of the “Paracel” and “Spratly” islands in the South China Sea. In the East China Sea, China and Japan both claim a group of islands. Japan calls them the “Senkaku” islands and China calls them the “Diaoyu” islands. Translation: Asia, we have a problem.
Because both seas have serious trade and oil swag. Think: important shipping routes and potentially big oil and gas reserves. So whoever says ‘mine’ gets to control a major trade route and tap that oil.
China’s been playing SimCity in the South China Sea. Over the past year and a half, it’s built thousands of acres of artificial islands complete with helipads, airstrips, military facilities and a movie theater. And China’s not the first to dabble in South China Sea real estate -- Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines have all built on islands in the past. But China’s moves make that all look like Legos. This kind of flexing shows that China is set on marking its territory.
Because it could not only start a conflict between China and the neighbors, but also between China and the US. The US has a major stake in the trade that goes down in the region. And it really doesn’t want China calling the shots, controlling trade routes, and startin’ somethin’ with the US’s Asian allies. Cue Former US Sec of State Kerry telling China to pump the brakes back in 2015. And the US monitoring China’s island-building via surveillance planes. To which China has said ‘not America’s business.’ America disagreed. When President Trump first took office, he seemed to want to cool things down. Maybe because China is friendly with North Korea--and the US needs help responding to the country's nuclear activities. But in July, Trump said 'nvm' and let the US military travel through the contested waters more freely than when Obama was in charge. Cue tension.
This territorial beef could turn into a (literal) watershed moment for the region. It has the potential to start a conflict that would rock Asia and beyond.