Whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.
Competing claims in the South China Sea.
China is now actively drilling in waters claimed by Vietman and has positioned a giant oil rig that is approximately 150 miles from Vietnam's coast. International maritime law considers waters within 200 miles of a country’s borders to be within its exclusive economic zone. From China’s perspective the drilling site is 225 miles from its Hainan Island, which is connected by bridge to the Chinese mainland, but only 30 miles from the disputed Paracel Islands, which is claimed by both Vietnam and China. The stakes are high for both countries as oil and natural gas reserves in the South China Sea are thought to be abundant. China now claims roughly 90% of the South China Sea and has maritime disputes in the region with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan. China also has territorial disputes in the East China Sea (not shown on the map) with South Korea and Japan.
The standoff between Chinese ships and those from other countries, especially Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan is growing. In a recent clash involving the collision of Vietnamese and Chinese ships, more than a dozen sailors were injured. So far hostilities have not resulted in fatalities by weapons use and generally involve the deployment of highly energetic water cannons, loudspeakers, aggressive maneuvers, and the occasional collision.
Chinese coast guard vessel using a water canon to repel a Vietnamese boat near its recently deployed rig in the South China Sea.
The question is will simmering hostilities and low level conflict lead to something far worse—outright war. Mistakes can be made and the conditions are right for increasing conflict. Sir Walter Raleigh would certainly not be surprised by the events in the South China Sea, or by the motivations of the countries involved.