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In the most recent clash, the Philippines’ naval forces intercepted eight Chinese fishing vessels in the Scarborough Shoal in April 2012, finding what they viewed as illegally fished marine life on board.The attempted arrest of the poachers led to a two-month standoff between the two countries.
The region has also seen increased militarization in response to China’s burgeoning power, raising the stakes of a potential armed conflict and making disputes more difficult to resolve.Beijing’s issuance of a new passport in late 2012 containing a map of the disputed region based on the line drew fresh international criticism and backlash.ASEAN countries have contested this boundary, but China has insisted on the historical legitimacy of the line based on survey expeditions, fishing activities, and naval patrols dating as far back as the fifteenth century, putting it at odds with the boundaries UNCLOS has enforced for the region since 1994.“And the South China Sea has become the hub of that.” According to the World Bank, the South China Sea holds proven oil reserves of at least seven billion barrels and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which offer tremendous economic opportunity for smaller nations like Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and energy security for China’s large, growing economy.In December 2012, China’s National Energy Administration named the disputed waters as the main offshore site for natural gas production, and a major Chinese energy company has already begun drilling in deep water off the southern coast.“That’s where most of the conflict goes on, and most of these have been dealt with on a routine conflict management basis.” As much as 50 percent of global oil tanker shipments pass through the South China Sea, which sees three times more tanker traffic than the Suez Canal and more than five times that of the Panama Canal, making the waters one of the world’s busiest international sea lanes.
More than half of the world’s top ten shipping ports are also located in and around the South China Sea, according to the International Association of Ports and Harbors.
A handful of islands comprise the epicenter of the territorial dispute, making up an area known as the “cow’s tongue” that spans roughly the entire South China Sea.
The region is home to a wealth of natural resources, fisheries, trade routes, and military bases, all of which are at stake in the increasingly frequent diplomatic standoffs.
The "nine-dash line" is a controversial demarcation line used by China for its claim to territories and waters in the South China Sea, most notably over the Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel and Spratly Islands—the two most important disputed island groups.
The line, which is contested by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam, encompasses virtually the entire South China Sea region and caused immediate controversy when China submitted a map to the UN in 2009 that included the demarcation.
Yann-Huei Song, a fellow at Academia Sinica in Taiwan.