The South China Sea dispute is basically a dispute over territory and sovereignty over ocean areas and the Paracels and the Spratly- two island chains claimed in whole by a number of countries.
The Spratly Islands are claimed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei while the Paracels have been controlled by China since 1974 and are claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. Since most of the disputed area is under the surface of the water it is difficult to measure the total dimension.
The free navigation of commercial vessels in the South China Sea is essential for regional and international trade. The dispute on the ownership of oil and natural gas reserves has become the major cause of concern in recent years. According to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, once the ownership of territory is decided, the territorial sea, maritime zone and EEC can be decided according to the clauses.
China claims by far the largest portion of the territory represented by the “nine-dash line” which stretches hundreds of miles south and east from its most southerly province of Hainan. Control of South China Sea would also allow China to dominate a major trade route through which most of its imported oil flows. It would also help China to disrupt or threaten trade shipments to all countries in East and Southeast Asia as well as deny access to foreign and military forces, particularly the US.
Claims are made on different historical rights, colonial inheritance, territorial and legal grounds, including overlapping and competing claims over either maritime zone or sovereignty over islands. In May 2009, Vietnam and Malaysia submitted a joint report on territorial claims in the South China Sea to the UN Commission to which China answered back by submitting a U shape line map.
On 26 May and 9 June 2011, China cut the cables of two Vietnamese oil exploration vessels. In February 2012, Vietnam accused China of shooting and damaging a Vietnamese fishing boat near Paracel. A series of protests and backfiring continued between China and Vietnam which indicated escalating tensions difficult to be reached at a solution acceptable by both sides.
The South China Sea situation will only be settled when the bordering countries change their mindsets from one of sovereignty and sole ownership of resources.