The South China Sea | Bill Hayton

Summary of: The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia
By: Bill Hayton

Introduction

Enter the labyrinth of the South China Sea, an intricate battlefield of sovereignty, military power, and contrasting economic realities. In Bill Hayton’s ‘The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia,’ readers are invited to explore the region’s complexities, the historical ownership disputes among China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and the political tremors that emerge from their battle over these tiny islands. Unearth the truth behind Chinese propaganda, the harsh conditions faced by soldiers, and the myth of oil reserves in this area that remains at the center of world trade and potential conflict.

Contradictions in the South China Sea

The South China Sea is a case study in contradictions, where small islands with no valid cultural or legal claims trigger military and diplomatic showdowns. Despite the lack of obvious economic or strategic value, the area has seen rare shooting battles that claimed Vietnamese and US troops’ lives. China uses strong-arm tactics to claim control of the area, with pushback from surrounding governments and private-sector participants from the US and Europe. Historical evidence indicates that no modern power can accurately claim to have discovered the islands of the South China Sea. However, China shapes the debate as the mightiest party in the area. “The situation in the South China Sea is more complicated than in the Black Sea or the Caribbean because of the numbers of rocks, islands and claimants involved.”

The History of the Disputed Spratly Islands

The Spratly Islands in the South China Sea were named after Captain Richard Spratly, a British whale hunter, and were initially used for mining bird droppings. The islands contain no value and were not occupied after World War II until the Philippines claimed ownership. In 1947, China drew a “U-shaped line” to claim territory in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands. Taiwan occupied the largest island in 1956, while Malaysia controls Swallow Reef for profit as a diving resort.

The Imperfect Accounts of the South China Sea

The territorial debate over the South China Sea is largely shaped by imperfect accounts from 1974 Chinese Communist Party journals. Despite their flaws, these accounts are still relied on by Western writers and continue to influence the political situation. In 1974, China seized the Paracel Islands while Vietnam was at war. The US was unable to stop the invasion, and a naval battle ensued between the Chinese and Vietnamese forces. Despite the bloodshed, oil companies like BP continued to view the situation as just another joint venture, ignoring the sovereignty dispute. The flawed historical accounts of the Paracel Islands have had lasting effects on the region, showing the importance of accurate and thorough reporting in shaping political outcomes.

China’s Expansionist Agenda

China’s territorial ambitions extended beyond its mainland and reached neighboring countries. In a bid to strengthen its claims and control over the South China Sea, China created an artificial island on Fiery Cross Reef in 1988, which angered Vietnam, leading to several conflicts and increasing anti-China sentiments. The country’s aggressive stance continued with building oil platforms on Mischief Reef in 1995, deepening tensions with the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. China’s neighbors saw it as a significant threat to their sovereignty and security, with Singapore’s prime minister likening it to a dog marking its territory. Despite international pressure, China persisted in its expansion, showcasing its geopolitical power.

South China Sea Disputes

The South China Sea is a focal point for international conflict, with China claiming ownership of the majority of the region and its resources. In 2009, China submitted a map to the UN, marking the first official declaration of its vision for the area. The so-called U-shaped line is a staple of Chinese propaganda and appears on Chinese passports. Rare public protests occurred in Vietnam in 2007 and 2012, with demonstrators protesting Chinese aggression, and wearing shirts displaying a map of the U-shaped line crossed out with an X. The South China Sea is a critical hub for global commerce, and political tensions continue to escalate as neighboring countries dispute China’s claims. Despite protests and opposition from other nations, China is still asserting its ownership over the majority of the region, including areas that neighboring countries claim. As territorial issues in the South China Sea remain unresolved, the region continues to be a center of international conflict.

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