Crowded China Sea

The superpower battle for regional supremacy in the South China Sea is heating up once again.

Abraham M. Denmark

For the last two years, a quiet showdown has played out over the South China Sea, the body of water bordered by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Taiwan. This little-known body of water is of vast strategic importance: Fully one-third of the world’s maritime trade traverses the South China Sea, and some optimistic estimates of its untapped stores of oil and natural gas would make it a second Persian Gulf. The South China Sea is also a major highway linking the oil fields of the Middle East and the factories of East Asia, with more than 80 percent of China’s oil imports (and large percentages for Japan and South Korea as well) flowing over its waters. As influential Asia-watcher Robert D. Kaplan has put it, the South China Sea’s importance to the region makes it the "Asian Mediterranean."

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