University of Baltimore Journal of International Law


The countries of southeastern Asia and China are currently in a territorial dispute over the Spratly and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea. The South China Sea encompasses roughly 1.4 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, spanning throughout most of southeastern Asia. A majority of the islands located within the sea are uninhabited and have never had an indigenous population, which makes it nearly impossible to track the lineage to determine sovereignty over the islands. Because there has never been an indigenous population on a majority of the islands, there are now competing claims for many of the same pieces of land. There are four main territorial disputes at issue: (1) China claims the “nine-dash line” area, which encompasses the southern province of Hainan, the Paracel island chain, and Spratly island chain; (2) Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly island chains; (3) the Philippines claim the Spratly islands based on their geographical proximity to the chain; (4) Malaysia and Brunei claim territory they believe to be in their economic exclusion zones, as laid out by the United Nations Conference on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).3

The purpose of this paper will be to examine the underlying economics behind the fisheries, shipping lanes, and natural resources highlighting South China Sea’s role in the industrialization of Asia.



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