South China Sea

The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Karimata and Malacca straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometres (1,400,000 sq mi). The sea carries tremendous strategic importance; one-third of the world's shipping passes through it, carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year,[1] it contains lucrative fisheries, which are crucial for the food security of millions in Southeast Asia. Huge oil and gas reserves are believed to lie beneath its seabed.[2]

According to International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition (1953), it is located[3]

However, in its unapproved draft 4th edition (1986),[4] IHO proposed the Natuna Sea, thus the South China Sea southern boundary was shifted northward, from north of the Bangka Belitung Islands to

The minute South China Sea Islands, collectively an archipelago, number in the hundreds. The sea and its mostly uninhabited islands are subject to competing claims of sovereignty by several countries. These claims are also reflected in the variety of names used for the islands and the sea.

South China Sea
Mar de China Meridional - BM WMS 2004
Satellite image of the South China Sea
South China Sea is located in South China Sea
South China Sea
South China Sea
South China Sea is located in Southeast Asia
South China Sea
South China Sea
South China Sea is located in Asia
South China Sea
South China Sea
South China Sea
The northeastern portion of the South China Sea
Coordinates12°N 113°E / 12°N 113°ECoordinates: 12°N 113°E / 12°N 113°E
Part ofPacific Ocean
River sources
Basin countries
Surface area3,500,000 square kilometres (1,400,000 sq mi)
IslandsList of islands in the South China Sea


South China Sea
Chinese name
Hanyu PinyinNán Hǎi
Literal meaningSouth Sea
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese南中国海
Traditional Chinese南中國海
Hanyu PinyinNán Zhōngguó Hǎi
Literal meaningSouth China Sea
Vietnamese name
VietnameseBiển Đông
Literal meaningEast Sea
Thai name
 [tʰā.lēː t͡ɕīːn tâ(ː)j]
(South China Sea)
RTGSThale Chin Tai
Japanese name
Kanji南支那海 or 南シナ海 (literally "South Shina Sea")
Malay name
MalayLaut Cina Selatan
(South China Sea)
Indonesian name
IndonesianLaut Cina Selatan /
Laut Tiongkok Selatan
(South China Sea)
Laut Natuna Utara
(North Natuna Sea)[6]
Filipino name
TagalogDagat Timog Tsina
(South China Sea)
Dagat Luzon
(Luzon Sea)
Portuguese name
PortugueseMar da China Meridional
(South China Sea)
Alternative English name
Alternative EnglishWest Philippine Sea
(Philippine official government use; Claimed Philippine EEZ only)[7]

South China Sea is the dominant term used in English for the sea, and the name in most European languages is equivalent. This name is a result of early European interest in the sea as a route from Europe and South Asia to the trading opportunities of China. In the sixteenth century Portuguese sailors called it the China Sea (Mare da China); later needs to differentiate it from nearby bodies of water led to calling it the South China Sea.[8] The International Hydrographic Organization refers to the sea as "South China Sea (Nan Hai)".[3]

The Yizhoushu, which was a chronicle of the Western Zhou dynasty (1046–771 BCE) gives the first Chinese name for the South China Sea as Nanfang Hai (Chinese: 南方海; pinyin: Nánfāng Hǎi; literally: 'Southern Sea'), claiming that barbarians from that sea gave tributes of hawksbill sea turtles to the Zhou rulers.[9] The Classic of Poetry, Zuo Zhuan, and Guoyu classics of the Spring and Autumn period (771–476 BCE) also referred to the sea, but by the name Nan Hai (Chinese: 南海; pinyin: Nán Hǎi; literally: 'South Sea') in reference to the State of Chu's expeditions there.[9] Nan Hai, the South Sea, was one of the Four Seas of Chinese literature. There are three other seas, one for each of the four cardinal directions.[10] During the Eastern Han dynasty (23–220 CE), China's rulers called the Sea Zhang Hai (Chinese: 漲海; pinyin: Zhǎng Hǎi; literally: 'distended sea').[9] Fei Hai (Chinese: 沸海; pinyin: Fèi Hǎi; literally: 'boil sea') became popular during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period. Usage of the current Chinese name, Nan Hai (South Sea), became gradually widespread during the Qing Dynasty.[11]

In Southeast Asia it was once called the Champa Sea or Sea of Cham, after the maritime kingdom of Champa that flourished there before the sixteenth century.[12] The majority of the sea came under Japanese naval control during World War II following the military acquisition of many surrounding South East Asian territories in 1941. Japan calls the sea Minami Shina Kai "South China Sea". This was written 南支那海 until 2004, when the Japanese Foreign Ministry and other departments switched the spelling to 南シナ海, which has become the standard usage in Japan.

In China, it is called the "South Sea", 南海 Nánhǎi, and in Vietnam the "East Sea", Biển Đông.[13][14][15] In Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, it was long called the "South China Sea" (Dagat Timog Tsina in Tagalog, Laut China Selatan in Malay), with the part within Philippine territorial waters often called the "Luzon Sea", Dagat Luzon, by the Philippines.[16] However, following an escalation of the Spratly Islands dispute in 2011, various Philippine government agencies started using the name "West Philippine Sea". A Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) spokesperson said that the sea to the east of the Philippines will continue to be called the Philippine Sea.[17]

In September 2012, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III signed Administrative Order No. 29, mandating that all government agencies use the name "West Philippine Sea" to refer to the parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, including the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc, and tasked the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to use the name in official maps.[18][19]

In July 2017, to assert its sovereignty, Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the "North Natuna Sea", which is located north of the Indonesian Natuna Islands, bordering the southern Vietnam exclusive economic zone, corresponding to the southern end of the South China Sea.[20] The "Natuna Sea" is located south of Natuna Island within Indonesian territorial waters.[21] Therefore, Indonesia has named two seas that are portions of the South China Sea; the Natuna Sea located between Natuna Islands and the Lingga and Tambelan Archipelagos, and the North Natuna Sea located between the Natuna Islands and Cape Cà Mau on the southern tip of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.


States and territories with borders on the sea (clockwise from north) include: the People's Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Major rivers that flow into the South China Sea include the Pearl, Min, Jiulong, Red, Mekong, Rajang, Pahang, Agno, Pampanga, and Pasig Rivers.


The International Hydrographic Organization in its Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition (1953), defines the limits of the South China Sea as follows:[3]

On the South. The Eastern and Southern limits of Singapore and Malacca Straits [A line joining Tanjong Datok, the Southeast point of Johore (1°22′N 104°17′E / 1.367°N 104.283°E) through Horsburgh Reef to Pulo Koko, the Northeastern extreme of Bintan Island (1°13.5′N 104°35′E / 1.2250°N 104.583°E). The Northeastern coast of Sumatra] as far West as Tanjong Kedabu (1°06′N 102°58′E / 1.100°N 102.967°E) down the East coast of Sumatra to Lucipara Point (3°14′S 106°05′E / 3.233°S 106.083°E) thence to Tanjong Nanka, the Southwest extremity of Banka Island, through this island to Tanjong Berikat the Eastern point (2°34′S 106°51′E / 2.567°S 106.850°E), on to Tanjong Djemang (2°36′S 107°37′E / 2.600°S 107.617°E) in Billiton, along the North coast of this island to Tanjong Boeroeng Mandi (2°46′S 108°16′E / 2.767°S 108.267°E) and thence a line to Tanjong Sambar (3°00′S 110°19′E / 3.000°S 110.317°E) the Southwest extreme of Borneo.

On the East. From Tanjong Sambar through the West coast of Borneo to Tanjong Sampanmangio, the North point, thence a line to West points of Balabac and Secam Reefs, on to the West point of Bancalan Island and to Cape Buliluyan, the Southwest point of Palawan, through this island to Cabuli Point, the Northern point thereof, thence to the Northwest point of Busuanga and to Cape Calavite in the island of Mindoro, to the Northwest point of Lubang Island and to Point Fuego (14°08'N) in Luzon Island, through this island to Cape Engano, the Northeast point of Luzon, along a line joining this cape with the East point of Balintang Island (20°N) and to the East point of Y'Ami Island (21°05'N) thence to Garan Bi, the Southern point of Taiwan (Formosa), through this island to Santyo (25°N) its North Eastern Point.

On the North. From Fuki Kaku the North point of Formosa to Kiushan Tao (Turnabout Island) on to the South point of Haitan Tao (25°25'N) and thence Westward on the parallel of 25°24' North to the coast of Fukien.

On the West. The Mainland, the Southern limit of the Gulf of Thailand and the East coast of the Malay Peninsula.

However, in a revised edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas, 4th edition (1986), the International Hydrographic Organization officially recognized the Natuna Sea. Thus the southern limit of South China Sea is revised from the Bangka Belitung Islands to the Natuna Islands.[5]


Mui Ne4
Sunset on the South China Sea off Mũi Né village on the south-east coast of Vietnam

The sea lies above a drowned continental shelf; during recent ice ages global sea level was hundreds of metres lower, and Borneo was part of the Asian mainland.

The South China Sea opened around 45 million years ago when the "Dangerous Ground" rifted away from southern China. Extension culminated in seafloor spreading around 30 million years ago, a process that propagated to the SW resulting in the V-shaped basin we see today. Extension ceased around 17 million years ago.[22] Arguments have continued about the role of tectonic extrusion in forming the basin. Paul Tapponnier and colleagues have argued that as India collides with Asia it pushes Indochina to the SE. The relative shear between Indochina and China caused the South China Sea to open.[23] This view is disputed by geologists who do not consider Indochina to have moved far relative to mainland Asia. Marine geophysical studies in the Gulf of Tonkin by Peter Clift has shown that the Red River Fault was active and causing basin formation at least by 37 million years ago in the NW South China Sea, consistent with extrusion playing a part in the formation of the sea. Since opening the South China Sea has been the repository of large sediment volumes delivered by the Mekong River, Red River and Pearl River. Several of these deltas are rich in oil and gas deposits.

Islands and seamounts

The South China Sea contains over 250 small islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars, most of which have no indigenous people, many of which are naturally under water at high tide, and some of which are permanently submerged. The features are grouped into three archipelagos (listed by area size), Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough Shoal:

Karta CN SouthChinaSea
South China Sea

The Spratly Islands spread over an 810 by 900 km area covering some 175 identified insular features, the largest being Taiping Island (Itu Aba) at just over 1.3 kilometres (0.81 mi) long and with its highest elevation at 3.8 metres (12 ft).

The largest singular feature in the area of the Spratly Islands is a 100 kilometres (62 mi) wide seamount called Reed Tablemount, also known as Reed Bank, in the northeast of the group, separated from Palawan Island of the Philippines by the Palawan Trench. Now completely submerged, with a depth of 20 metres (66 ft), it was an island until it sank about 7,000 years ago due to the increasing sea level after the last ice age. With an area of 8,866 square kilometres (3,423 sq mi), it is one of the largest submerged atoll structures in the world.


Major crude oil trade flows in the South China Sea (2016) (43582519014)
Millions of barrels of crude oil are traded through the South China Sea each day

The South China Sea is an extremely significant body of water in a geopolitical sense. It is the second most used sea lane in the world, while in terms of world annual merchant fleet tonnage, over 50% passes through the Strait of Malacca, the Sunda Strait, and the Lombok Strait. Over 1.6 million m³ (10 million barrels) of crude oil a day are shipped through the Strait of Malacca, where there are regular reports of piracy, but much less frequently than before the mid-20th century.

The region has proven oil reserves of around 1.2 km³ (7.7 billion barrels), with an estimate of 4.5 km³ (28 billion barrels) in total. Natural gas reserves are estimated to total around 7,500 km³ (266 trillion cubic feet). A 2013 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration raised the total estimated oil reserves to 11 billion barrels.[24] In 2014 China began to drill for oil in waters disputed with Vietnam.[25] The area in question is known as Vanguard Bank and which Vietnam officials claim lies within their country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone. China, however, disputes this fact.[26]

According to studies made by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Philippines, this body of water holds one third of the entire world's marine biodiversity, thereby making it a very important area for the ecosystem. However the fish stocks in the area are depleted, and countries are using fishing bans as a means of asserting their sovereignty claims.[27]

Indonesia's maritime waters have been breached by fishing fleets from Vietnam and the Philippines leading to said ships being seized and sunk by Indonesian authorities.[28]

China announced in May 2017 a breakthrough for mining methane clathrates, when they extracted methane from hydrates in the South China Sea.[29][30]

Territorial claims

South China Sea claims map
Territorial claims in the South China Sea
Spratly with flags
Map of various countries occupying the Spratly Islands

Several countries have made competing territorial claims over the South China Sea. Such disputes have been regarded as Asia's most potentially dangerous point of conflict. Both People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC, commonly known as Taiwan) claim almost the entire body as their own, demarcating their claims within what is known as the nine-dotted line, which claims overlap with virtually every other country in the region. Competing claims include:

  • Indonesia, China, and Taiwan over waters NE of the Natuna Islands
  • The Philippines, China, and Taiwan over Scarborough Shoal.
  • Vietnam, China, and Taiwan over waters west of the Spratly Islands. Some or all of the islands themselves are also disputed between Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
  • The Paracel Islands are disputed between China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
  • Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam over areas in the Gulf of Thailand.
  • Singapore and Malaysia along the Strait of Johore and the Strait of Singapore.

China and Vietnam have both been vigorous in prosecuting their claims. China (various governments) and South Vietnam each controlled part of the Paracel Islands before 1974. A brief conflict in 1974 resulted in 18 Chinese and 53 Vietnamese deaths, and China has controlled the whole of Paracel since then. The Spratly Islands have been the site of a naval clash, in which over 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed just south of Chigua Reef in March 1988. Disputing claimants regularly report clashes between naval vessels.

ASEAN in general, and Malaysia in particular, have been keen to ensure that the territorial disputes within the South China Sea do not escalate into armed conflict. As such, Joint Development Authorities have been set up in areas of overlapping claims to jointly develop the area and divide the profits equally without settling the issue of sovereignty over the area. This is true particularly in the Gulf of Thailand. Generally, China has preferred to resolve competing claims bilaterally,[31] while some ASEAN countries prefer multilateral talks,[32] believing that they are disadvantaged in bilateral negotiations with the much larger China and that because many countries claim the same territory only multilateral talks could effectively resolve the competing claims.[33]

The overlapping claims over Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Putih including the neighboring Middle Rocks by both Singapore and Malaysia were settled in 2008 by the International Court of Justice, awarding Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh to Singapore and the Middle Rocks to Malaysia.

In July 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for China to resolve the territorial dispute. China responded by demanding the US keep out of the issue. This came at a time when both countries had been engaging in naval exercises in a show of force to the opposing side, which increased tensions in the region. The US Department of Defense released a statement on August 18 where it opposed the use of force to resolve the dispute, and accused China of assertive behaviour.[34] On July 22, 2011, one of India's amphibious assault vessels, the INS Airavat which was on a friendly visit to Vietnam, was reportedly contacted at a distance of 45 nautical miles (83 km) from the Vietnamese coast in the disputed South China Sea on an open radio channel by a vessel identifying itself as the Chinese Navy and stating that the ship was entering Chinese waters.[35][36] The spokesperson for the Indian Navy clarified that as no ship or aircraft was visible from INS Airavat it proceeded on her onward journey as scheduled. The Indian Navy further clarified that "[t]here was no confrontation involving the INS Airavat. India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the right of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law. These principles should be respected by all."[35]

In September 2011, shortly after China and Vietnam had signed an agreement seeking to contain a dispute over the South China Sea, India's state-run explorer, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) said that its overseas investment arm ONGC Videsh Limited had signed a three-year deal with PetroVietnam for developing long-term cooperation in the oil sector[37] and that it had accepted Vietnam's offer of exploration in certain specified blocks in the South China Sea.[38] In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu issued a protest.[39][40] The spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India responded by saying that “The Chinese had concerns but we are going by what the Vietnamese authorities have told us and have conveyed this to the Chinese.”[39] The Indo-Vietnamese deal was also denounced by the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times.[38][40]

Subi Reef May 2015
Subi Reef being built by China and transformed into an artificial island, 2015

In 1999, Taiwan claimed the entirety of the South China Sea islands under the Lee Teng-hui administration.[41] The entire subsoil, seabed and waters of the Paracels and Spratlys are claimed by Taiwan.[42]

In 2012 and 2013, Vietnam and Taiwan butted heads against each other over anti-Vietnamese military exercises by Taiwan.[43]

In May 2014, China established an oil rig near the Paracel Islands, leading to multiple incidents between Vietnamese and Chinese ships.[44][45]

In December 2018, retired Chinese admiral Luo Yuan proposed that a possible solution to tensions with the United States in the South China Sea would be to sink one or two United States Navy aircraft carriers to break US morale.[46][47][48][49] Also in December 2018, Chinese commentator and Senior Colonel in the People's Liberation Army Air Force, Dai Xu suggested that China's navy should ram United States Navy ships sailing in the South China Sea.[46][50][51]

The US, although not a signatory to UNCLOS, has maintained its position that its naval vessels have consistently sailed unhindered through the South China Sea and will continue to do so.[52] At times US warships have come within the 12 nautical-mile limit of sovereign Chinese islands (such as the Paracel Islands), arousing China's ire.[53] During the US Chief of Naval Operations' visit to China in early 2019, he and his Chinese counterpart worked out rules of engagement, whenever American warships and Chinese warships met up on the high seas.

2016 ruling

In January 2013, the Philippines formally initiated arbitration proceedings against China's claim on the territories within the "Nine-Dash Line" that includes the Spratly Islands, which it said is unlawful under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).[54][55]

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration backed the Philippines, saying that there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources, hence there was "no legal basis for China to claim historic rights" over the nine-dash line.[56][57] The tribunal also criticized China's land reclamation projects and its construction of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, saying that it had caused "severe harm to the coral reef environment".[58] It also characterized Taiping Island and other features of the Spratly Islands as "rocks" under UNCLOS, and therefore are not entitled to a 200-nautical-mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone.[59]

China however rejected the ruling, calling it "ill-founded".[60] Taiwan, which currently administers Taiping Island, the largest of the Spratly Islands, also rejected the ruling.[61]

See also


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    Vietnam ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Indonesia’s War on Illegal Fishing Archived 2016-08-28 at the Wayback Machine, August 21, 2015, The Diplomat.
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    Indonesia sinks Vietnam fishing boats, 5 Dec 2014.
    Indonesia sinks 34 of its neighbors' boats to celebrate Independence Day, and Vietnam isn't happy, August 21, 2015.
    Indonesia sinks Vietnamese boats to stop illegal fishing, December 5, 2014
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  49. ^ "罗援少将在2018军工榜颁奖典礼与创新峰会上的演讲 - Major General Luo Yuan's speech at the 2018 Military Industry Awards Ceremony and Innovation Summit". December 25, 2018. 现在美国有11艘航空母舰,我们是不是要发展12艘航母,才能跟美国抗衡呢?我觉得这种思路错了,我们不能搞军备竞赛。历史的经验告诉我们,美国最怕死人。我们现在有东风21D、东风26导弹,这是航母杀手锏,我们击沉它一艘航母,让它伤亡5000人/ Now there are 11 aircraft carriers in the United States. Do we want to develop 12 aircraft carriers to compete with the United States? I think this kind of thinking is wrong. We can't engage in an arms race. Historical experience tells us that the United States is most afraid of the dead. We now have Dongfeng 21D and Dongfeng 26 missiles. This is the aircraft carrier killer. If we sink an aircraft carrier, it will kill 5,000 people; if we sink two ships, we kill 10,000 people.
  50. ^ Zhang, Dan (December 18, 2018). "Chinese experts emphasize firm but flexible strategy on South China Sea". Global Times. If the US warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it
  51. ^ Deaeth, Duncan (December 8, 2018). "Senior Chinese military official urges PLAN to attack US naval vessels in S. China Sea". Taiwan News.
  52. ^ US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John M. Richardson, John M. Richardson: "Maintaining Maritime Superiority" on YouTube, Lecture at Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center. / Feb 2019, minutes 38:22–41:25; 49:39–52:00.
  53. ^ Goelman, Zachary (7 January 2019). "U.S. Navy ship sails in disputed South China Sea amid trade talks with Beijing". Reuters.
  54. ^ "Timeline: South China Sea dispute". Financial Times. 12 July 2016.
  55. ^ Beech, Hannah (11 July 2016). "China's Global Reputation Hinges on Upcoming South China Sea Court Decision". TIME.
  56. ^ "A UN-appointed tribunal dismisses China's claims in the South China Sea". The Economist. 12 July 2016.
  57. ^ Perlez, Jane (12 July 2016). "Beijing's South China Sea Claims Rejected by Hague Tribunal". The New York Times.
  58. ^ Tom Phillips, Oliver Holmes, Owen Bowcott (12 July 2016). "Beijing rejects tribunal's ruling in South China Sea case". The Guardian.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  59. ^ Chow, Jermyn (12 July 2016). "Taiwan rejects South China Sea ruling, says will deploy another navy vessel to Taiping". The Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co.
  60. ^ "South China Sea: Tribunal backs case against China brought by Philippines". BBC. 12 July 2016.
  61. ^ Jun Mai, Shi Jiangtao (12 July 2016). "Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island is a rock, says international court in South China Sea ruling". South China Morning Post.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)

Further reading

External links

Antelope of Boston

Antelope was a medium clipper built in 1851 in Medford, near Boston, Massachusetts. She sailed in the San Francisco, China, and Far East trades, and was known for her fine finish work and for her crew's escape from pirates. She is often called Antelope of Boston to distinguish her from an extreme clipper launched in 1852, Antelope of New York.

Broadmouth catshark

The broadmouth catshark (Apristurus macrostomus) is a rare catshark of the family Scyliorhinidae, the holotype and only specimen of which was taken from off Zhujiang in the South China Sea, at a depth of 913 m. Its length is around 38 cm. The broadmouth catshark's reproduction is oviparous. Considering the species is not well known, the threats are not known either but may be deepwater fisheries.

Gulf of Thailand

The Gulf of Thailand, also known as the Gulf of Siam, is a shallow inlet in the western part of the South China Sea, a marginal body of water in the western Pacific Ocean. The gulf is around 800 km (497 mi) long and up to 560 km (348 mi) wide, has a surface area of 320,000 km2 (123,553 sq mi) and is surrounded on the north, west and southwest by Thailand, on the northeast by Cambodia and Vietnam. The South China Sea is to the southeast.

Gulf of Tonkin

The Gulf of Tonkin (Vietnamese: Vịnh Bắc Bộ, simplified Chinese: 北部湾; traditional Chinese: 北部灣; formerly known as 东京湾/東京灣 during ROC period) is a body of water located off the coast of northern Vietnam and southern China. It is a northern arm of the South China Sea. The Gulf is defined in the west by the northern coastline of Vietnam, in the north by China's Guangxi province, and to the east by China's Leizhou Peninsula and Hainan Island.

Humpback catshark

The humpback cat shark (Apristurus gibbosus) is a cat shark of the family Scyliorhinidae in the order Carcharhiniformes, found in the northwest Pacific Ocean off Zhujiang, South China Sea, from the surface to 915 m. Its length is 39–41 cm. The largest specimen examined by Nakaya and Sato was 54.2 cm TL. The humpback catshark is a little-known oviparous deepwater catshark.

Luzon Strait

The Luzon Strait (Filipino: Kipot ng Luzon) is the strait between Taiwan and Luzon island of the Philippines. The strait thereby connects the Philippine Sea to the South China Sea in the western Pacific Ocean.This body of water is an important strait for shipping and communications. Many ships from the Americas use this route to go to important East Asian ports. Many submarine communications cables pass through the Luzon Strait. These cables provide important data and telephony services to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

Nine-Dash Line

The Nine-Dash Line—at various times also referred to as the "10-dash line" and the "11-dash line"—refers to the undefined, vaguely located, demarcation line used initially by the Republic of China (1912–1949) and subsequently the governments of the Republic of China (ROC / Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (PRC), for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea. The contested area in the South China Sea includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and various other areas including the Pratas Islands, the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal. The claim encompasses the area of Chinese land reclamation known as the "Great Wall of Sand".An early map showing a U-shaped eleven-dash line was published in the then-Republic of China on 1 November 1947. Two of the dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin were later removed at the behest of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, reducing the total to nine. Subsequent editions added a dash to the other end of the line, extending it into the East China Sea.Despite having made the vague claim public in 1947, China has not (as of 2018) filed a formal and specifically defined claim to the area within the dashes. China added a tenth-dash line to the east of Taiwan island in 2013 as a part of its official sovereignty claim to the disputed territories in the South China Sea.On 12 July 2016, an arbitral tribunal constituted under Annex VII to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled that China has no legal basis to claim "historic rights" within its nine-dash line in a case brought by the Philippines. The tribunal judged that there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources within the Nine-Dash Line. The ruling was rejected by both Taiwan and China.

Peninsular Malaysia

Peninsular Malaysia, also known as Malaya or West Malaysia, is the part of Malaysia which lies on the Malay Peninsula and surrounding islands. Its area is 132,265 square kilometres (51,068 sq mi), which is nearly 40% of the total area of the country - or slightly larger than England (130,395 km²). It shares a land border with Thailand to the north and Singapore at the southernmost tip.Across the Strait of Malacca to the west lies the Sumatra Island (Indonesia) and across the South China Sea to the east lies the Natuna Islands (Indonesia). Peninsular Malaysia accounts for the majority (roughly 81.3%) of Malaysia's population and economy; as of 2017 its population is roughly 26 million (92% of total population).

Philippines v. China

Philippines v. China (PCA case number 2013–19), also known as the South China Sea Arbitration, was an arbitration case brought by the Republic of the Philippines against the People's Republic of China under Annex VII to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning certain issues in the South China Sea including the legality of China's Nine-dash line.On 19 February 2013, China declared that it would not participate in the arbitration.

On 7 December 2014, a white paper was published by China to elaborate its position. On 29 October 2015, the arbitral tribunal ruled that it has jurisdiction over the case, taking up seven of the 15 submissions made by the Philippines.On 12 July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines. It clarified that it would not "...rule on any question of sovereignty over land territory and would not delimit any maritime boundary between the Parties". The tribunal also ruled that China has "no historical rights" based on the "nine-dash line" map. China has rejected the ruling, as has Taiwan.

Pratas Islands

The Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands and Tungsha Islands, are three atolls (Pratas Atoll, North Vereker Atoll and South Vereker Atoll) in the north of the South China Sea. They consist of one island, two coral reefs and two banks, and are located about 170 nautical miles (310 km; 200 mi) southeast of Hong Kong. The Republic of China (Taiwan) controls them and has declared part of them the Dongsha Atoll National Park. The People's Republic of China claims them as part of China.

Pratas Island is the only area above sea level. It has an area of about 240 hectares (590 acres), including 64 hectares (160 acres) of lagoon, and is the largest of the South China Sea Islands. It is the location of the Dongsha Airport.

The Pratas atoll is circular, with Pratas Island at the west of the atoll, and two large submerged coral reefs around the edge of most of the rest of the atoll.

The North Vereker Bank and South Vereker Bank are adjacent to each other about 40 nautical miles (74 km; 46 mi) to the northwest of the Pratas atoll at 21°N 116°E.

North Vereker Bank rises to 11 metres (36 ft) below sea level, and South Vereker Bank to 57 metres (187 ft) below sea level. There are numerous oil wells to the west of the banks.

Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal (Filipino: Kulumpol ng Panatag),, Bajo de Masinloc (Spanish),, and Democracy Reef are two rocks in a shoal located between the Macclesfield Bank and Luzon island in the West Philippine Sea.

It is a disputed territory claimed by the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the Philippines. The shoal's status is often discussed in conjunction with other territorial disputes in the South China Sea such as those involving the Spratly Islands, and the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff. It formerly was administered by the Philippines, however, due to the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, where China sent warships to invade the shoal, the administration of the shoal was taken by the People's Republic of China. It was initially expected for the United States to defend the territory of the Philippines during the standoff as the two nations had a Mutual Defense Treaty, however, the United States chose to move itself away from the tension, and used 'verbal protests' against China instead. The aftermath of the standoff ultimately strained Philippines-China relations and Philippines-United States relations, resulting in Filipino officials calling the United States an 'unreliable ally', a statement echoed by other nations. The event also solidified China's expansionist ideals in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2013, the Philippines solely filed an international case against China in the UN-backed court in The Hague, Netherlands. In 2016, the court officially dismissed China's so-called "9-dash claim" in the entire South China Sea and upheld the Philippine claim. China rejected the UN-backed international court's decision and sent more warships in Scarborough Shoal and other islands controlled by China.The shoal was named by Captain Philip D'Auvergne, whose East India Company East Indiaman Scarborough grounded on one of the rocks on 12 September 1784, before sailing on to China.

Smalldorsal catshark

The smalldorsal cat shark (Apristurus micropterygeus) is a catshark of the family Scyliorhinidae found in the South China Sea, at depths to 915 m. It can grow up to 37 cm. A. micropterygeus is unique among its species in having a narrow and sharply pointed first dorsal fin. However, Nakaya and Sato (2000) recommended that the status of the species be reviewed once additional specimens are available, citing the possibility that the dorsal fin of the holotype may have been malformed. The reproduction of the smalldorsal catshark is oviparous.

Spotless catshark

The spotless catshark (Bythaelurus immaculatus) is a catshark of the family Scyliorhinidae found in the South China Sea, at depths between 535 and 1,020 m on the continental slope. Its length is up to 71 centimetres (28 in).

Spratly Islands

The Spratly Islands (Chinese: 南沙群岛 (Nánshā Qúndǎo), Malay: Kepulauan Spratly, Tagalog: Kapuluan ng Kalayaan, Vietnamese: Quần đảo Trường Sa) are a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea. Composed of islands, islets and cays and more than 100 reefs, sometimes grouped in submerged old atolls, the archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam. Named after the 19th-century British whaling captain Richard Spratly who sighted Spratly Island in 1843, the islands contain less than 2 km2 (490 acres) of naturally occurring land area spread over an area of more than 425,000 km2 (164,000 sq mi).

The Spratlys are one of the major archipelagos in the South China Sea which complicate governance and economics in this part of Southeast Asia due to their location in strategic shipping lanes. The islands have no indigenous inhabitants, but offer rich fishing grounds and may contain significant oil and natural gas reserves, and as such are important to the claimants in their attempts to establish international boundaries. Some of the islands have civilian settlements, but of the approximately 45 islands, cays, reefs and shoals that are occupied, all contain structures that are occupied by military forces from Malaysia, Taiwan (ROC), China (PRC), the Philippines and Vietnam. Additionally, Brunei has claimed an exclusive economic zone in the southeastern part of the Spratlys, which includes the uninhabited Louisa Reef.

Spratly Islands dispute

The Spratly Islands dispute is an ongoing territorial dispute between China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, concerning "ownership" of the Spratly Islands, a group of islands and associated "maritime features" (reefs, banks, cays, etc.) located in the South China Sea. The dispute is characterised by diplomatic stalemate and the employment of military pressure techniques (such as military occupation of disputed territory) in the advancement of national territorial claims. All except Brunei occupy some of the maritime features.

There has been a sharp rise in media coverage owing mainly to China's increasingly vocal objection to the presence of American naval vessels transiting the area in order to assert the right to freedom of navigation within international waters.

Most of the "maritime features" in this area have at least six names: The "International name", usually in English; the "Chinese name", sometimes different for PRC and ROC (and also in different character-sets); the Vietnamese, Philippine and Malaysian names, and also, there are alternate names (e.g. Spratly Island is also known as Storm Island), and sometimes names with colonial origins (French, Portuguese, Spanish, British, etc.).The Spratly Islands are important for economic and strategic reasons. The Spratly area holds potentially significant, but largely unexplored, reserves of oil and natural gas, it is a productive area for world fishing, it is one of the busiest areas of commercial shipping traffic, and surrounding countries would get an extended continental shelf if their claims were recognised. In addition to economic incentives, the Spratlys sit astride major maritime trade routes to Northeast Asia, giving them added significance as positions from which to monitor maritime activity in the South China Sea and to potentially base and project military force from. In 2014, China drew increased international attention due to its dredging activities within the Spratlys, amidst speculation it is planning to further develop its military presence in the area. In 2015 satellite imagery revealed that China was rapidly constructing an airfield on Fiery Cross Reef within the Spratlys whilst continuing its land reclamation activities at other sites. Only China (PRC), Taiwan (ROC), and Vietnam have made claims based on historical sovereignty of the islands. The Philippines, however, claims part of the area as its territory under UNCLOS, an agreement parts of which have been ratified by the countries involved in the Spratly islands dispute.

Taiwan Strait

The Taiwan Strait is a 180-kilometer (110 mi)-wide strait separating the island of Taiwan from mainland China. The strait is currently classified as part of the South China Sea and borders the East China Sea to the north. It is 130 km (81 mi) wide at its narrowest.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea

The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People's Republic of China (PRC), Republic of China (ROC/Taiwan), Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. An estimated US$3,37 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea annually, which accounts for a third of the global maritime trade. 80 percent of China´s energy imports and 39.5 percent of China´s total trade passes through the South China Sea.The disputes include the islands, reefs, banks, and other features of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and various boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin. There are further disputes, including the waters near the Indonesian Natuna Islands, which many do not regard as part of the South China Sea. Claimant states are interested in retaining or acquiring the rights to fishing stocks, the exploration and potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas in the seabed of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.

Since 2013, the People´s Republic of China has resorted to island building in the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands region. These actions have been met with a wide international condemnation, and since 2015 the United States and other states such as France and the United Kingdom have conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) in the region. In July 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled against the PRC's maritime claims in Philippines v. China. The tribunal did not rule on the ownership of the islands or delimit maritime boundaries. The People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) stated that they did not recognize the tribunal and insisted that the matter should be resolved through bilateral negotiations with other claimants.

West Philippine Sea

West Philippine Sea is the official designation by the Philippine government of eastern parts of the South China Sea which are included in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. The term is also sometimes used to refer to the South China Sea as a whole.

Woody Island (South China Sea)

Woody Island, also called Yongxing Island (simplified Chinese: 永兴岛; traditional Chinese: 永興島; pinyin: Yǒngxīng Dǎo; literally: 'Eternal Prosperity Island') in People's Republic of China (PRC) and Phu Lam Island (Vietnamese: Đảo Phú Lâm) in Vietnam, is the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea (SCS), with an area of 2.1 square kilometres (0.81 sq mi). It has a population of more than 1,000 people, with roads, banks and a "small" (as defined by the FAA and ICAO) air strip. The Paracel Islands are a group of islands, reefs, banks and atolls in the northwestern part of the South China Sea. Woody Island is part of the Amphitrite Group in the eastern Paracels and is approximately equidistant from Hainan and the Vietnam coast.

The island has been under the control of the People's Republic of China since 1956. It is administered by Sansha, a town located on the island.It is disputed territory and is also claimed by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam.

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinNán Hǎi
Bopomofoㄋㄢˊ ㄏㄞˇ
Wade–GilesNan2 Hai3
IPA[nǎn xài]
Romanizationnoe he
Romanizationnam11 hoi31
Yue: Cantonese
Jyutpingnaam4 hoi2
Southern Min
Hokkien POJlâm-hái
Hainanese Romanizationnâm-hái
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinNán Zhōngguó Hǎi
Bopomofoㄋㄢˊ ㄓㄨㄥ ㄍㄨㄛˊ ㄏㄞˇ
Wade–GilesNan2 Chung1-kuo2 Hai3
IPA[nǎn ʈʂʊ́ŋkwǒ xài]
Romanizationnoe tson koh he
Romanizationnam11 dung24 gued2 hoi31
Yue: Cantonese
Jyutpingnaam4 zung1 gwok3 hoi2
Southern Min
Hokkien POJlâm tiong-kok hái
Hainanese Romanizationnâm tieng-kuōk hái
RomanizationMinami Shina Kai
South China Sea
Pratas Islands
Paracel Islands
NorthEast SCS
Spratly Islands
Southern SCS
Tudjuh Archipelago
Indonesian seas
Arctic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
Indian Ocean
Pacific Ocean
Southern Ocean
Endorheic basins


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