The South China Sea has long been the topic of discontent between the nations surrounding it, mainly because of their overlapping territorial claims. From the outside the situation can seem a bit kafka-esque, even bizarre given that it pretty much looks like squabling over worthless rocks and reefs in what could otherwise be a very peaceful region. Nothing further from the truth of course. The squabling dates back over centuries and if you want to get a clear pictures on who wants what and why here’s a pretty non-biased accurate account on the issue by the Economist. The truth is it’s all about resources, as usual.
Now the countries in question are attempting to solve the issue, trying out different strategies, either at a bilateral level, ASEAN level or by getting countries, or even companies, from outside the region involved ( the US, India or Chevron and Exxon Mobile). And despite the numerous accounts that try to show China as a ruthless “take it all” resource guided state its diplomats have shown great restrain in presenting the matter as such, despite repeated provocations from most of the other “plaintiffs”; most of which would prefer a long legal battle at international level, not because this would seem the most fair solution but because it would give them plenty of time to start taking on the ground measures which would lay foundation for more substantial claims. The Phillipines and Vietnam have already started doing so by inviting outside investors in the South China Sea.
So why do we care? Well because if things get ugly it will have worldwide reprecussions, from everything as “puny” as prices for goods produced in the region and energy misshaps to things as complicated as military alliances. We don’t need a full blown conflict here anymore than they do. Which is why the West needs to stop treating this as tit for tat game on who owns what and start treating the issue like it’s hell bent on solving it not profiting from it. We did enough of that in Africa and the Middle East if you don’t mind.