Why South China Sea is a problem?

Nowadays every news channel is talking about South China Sea. There is a whole different kind of dispute going on in South China Sea. Every surrounding country of South China Sea is claiming its rights on the water and islands in South china Sea. There is also a research in which it is claimed that China may be planning for a war.


My curiosity is just not about South China Sea dispute but also about how someone can claim their rights on water? Water is not still than you will set a boundary around it? We will come to these questions but first let’s see what South China Sea dispute is?

South China Sea Dispute:



The above map shows that many countries claim its own territory in South China Sea and the boundaries of their claims clashes. The five countries which claim their area is China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei. The international tribunal ruled that China doesn’t have any claim on this sea but China ignored the ruling and still claiming its rights.

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South China Sea is important as world’s 1/3rd ships crossed this sea daily and the sea also has untapped oil reserves. So this sea is important both geographically and economically.

We don’t know there will be a war in future and who finally gets the claim on South china Sea, but my question still remains that how someone claim rights on water? This question cannot be answered without knowing that how sea law works?

Earth is divided into land and water with 70% of Earth covered with water. Lands are governed by countries and their Laws but what about Water? Who governs the 70% of Earth’s water?

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It is here that the Sea Laws or the Maritime Laws come into picture. Let us assume that a baby is born in the middle of Atlantic Ocean on a ship? Which country’s citizenship this baby will get?

south china seaMaritime Law:

If you want to answer the above question, then understand the below points first:

12-mile distance from the coast of a country belongs to that particular country. That particular country can do whatever they want in that 12-mile distance and all domestic laws of the country apply in that water. This water area is known as Territorial Waters.

Another 12-mile distance from the Territorial Water boundary is known as the Contiguous Zone. In this water section country can make laws regarding Customs, Taxation, Immigration and Pollution.

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Going 230 miles from the Contagious Zone boundary lies the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or International waters. This zone is made exclusively for fishing rights and oil drilling rights.

maritime zone

Applying the above principal can give us the answer why countries have dispute over South China Sea? If we go up to the distance of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) than the countries zones will overlap and hence the dispute arises.

If two countries are less than 400 Nautical Miles away than they decide mutually their economic zone boundary (Usually they keep the boundary at equidistant from each country’s coast). But when we are talking about South China Sea, which holds a great amount of oil reserves than no country wants to loose.


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Harsh is a curious writer who loves to explore his surroundings. There are many websites who provide answer to people queries but no single website alone resolves the curiosity of people. Curious Mind Box is an initiative to resolve the curiosities and answer every What, How and Why question that comes into your mind.

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