Contention over South China Sea

Places in news: Paracel Islands

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Prelims level : Paracel Islands

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A US destroyer sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, drawing an angry reaction from Beijing, which said its military had “driven away” the ship.

About Paracel Islands

  • The Paracel Islands, also known as the Xisha Islands and the Hoang Sa Archipelago are a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea.
  • The archipelago includes about 130 small coral islands and reefs, most grouped into the northeast Amphitrite Group or the western Crescent Group.

What is the South China Sea Dispute?

  • It is a dispute over territory and sovereignty over ocean areas, and the Paracels and the Spratlys – two island chains claimed in whole or in part by a number of countries.
  • China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all have competing claims.
  • Alongside the fully-fledged islands, there are dozens of rocky outcrops, atolls, sandbanks, and reefs, such as the Scarborough Shoal.
  • China claims by far the largest portion of territory – an area defined by the “nine-dash line” which stretches hundreds of miles south and east from its most southerly province of Hainan.
  • Beijing says its right to the area goes hundreds of centuries to when the Paracel and Spratly island chains were regarded as integral parts of the Chinese nation.
  • It showed the two island groups falling entirely within its territory. Those claims are mirrored by Taiwan.

Spat over Chinese claims

  • China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols.
  • The US says it does not take sides in territorial disputes but has sent military ships and planes near disputed islands, calling them “freedom of navigation” operations to ensure access to key shipping and air routes.
  • Both sides have accused each other of “militarizing” the South China Sea.
  • There are fears that the area is becoming a flashpoint, with potentially serious global consequences.

 

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