BBC reports the most recent face off in the South China Sea, in the general area where India and China are closest to direct and immediate dispute:
The Philippines said its warship, the Gregorio Del Pilar, found eight Chinese fishing vessels at the shoal when it was patrolling the area on Sunday.
In a statement, the Philippines said that its navy boarded the ship and found a large amount of illegally-caught fish and coral.
Two Chinese surveillance ships then apparently arrived in the area on Tuesday, placing themselves between the warship and the fishing vessels, preventing the navy from making arrests.
The Philippines summoned Chinese ambassador Ma Keqing on Wednesday to lodge a protest over the incident. However, China maintained it had sovereign rights over the area and asked that the Philippine ship leave the waters.
China has also been pressing up against Vietnamese claims, reports China Post:
A Chinese cruise operator said Tuesday one of its ships had just returned from a trial tour to islands in the South China Sea that are also claimed by Vietnam, a move that has angered Hanoi.
The ship went on a three-day trip to the Paracel Islands group — Hoang Sa in Vietnamese and Xisha in Chinese — over which Beijing and Hanoi have a long-standing territorial dispute, to investigate possible tourism routes.
The Scent of Princess Coconut docked at a port in the Chinese southern island of Hainan on Monday after the trip, said an employee surnamed Chen at the Hainan Strait Shipping Co. Ltd., the cruise operator.
“I don’t think it is diplomatically sensitive as the Xisha islands belong to China,” he told AFP.
The reason South China Sea is mainly its great economic potential. Bloomberg reports on one aspect of Chinese interests:
Cnooc Ltd, China’s biggest offshore energy producer, and Eni SpA (ENI), Italy’s largest oil company, agreed to expand exploration in the South China Sea.
Cnooc’s parent, China National Offshore Oil Corp., signed a production-sharing contract with Eni for the deepwater Block 30/27, the Beijing-based company said today in a statement. Eni will conduct a seismic survey of the area and drill a well.
“All expenditures incurred during the exploration period will be borne by Eni,” Cnooc said. The Chinese company “has the right to participate in up to 51 percent working interest in any commercial discoveries in the block.”
The block is 400 kilometers (250 miles) off Hong Kong and covers 5,130 square kilometers in an “attractive” deepwater area with “high” exploration potential, Eni said in a statement on its website.
ET reported a few weeks back that this is part of a grand design:
In the thick of maritime disputes with several of its neighbours, China today said it is mapping South China Sea (SCS) with an aim to step up exploration for oil and gas and to reinforce its territorial claims.
China may step up its exploration of South China Sea to reinforce its territorial claims following announcement that geographical surveys of the area are underway, state-run Global Times reported.
“The majority of the disputed waters used to be beyond our reach because we seldom put our claims into action,” Zhang Yunling, director of the Institute for International Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the daily.
“By drawing a map, the country can reinforce its jurisdiction claim in the South China Sea, and further actions may follow, such as exploiting resources near the Nansha Islands,” Zhang said.
Located south of China’s coast, SCS is connected with narrow straits with Pacific Ocean and covers 3.5 million sq km of the ocean.
China claims the entire SCS as its own. Its claim however has been contested by Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan which assert it is part their maritime waters.
Much to China’s chagrin, the US extended tacit support to the small countries and stepped its presence in the Pacific region, calling for peaceful resolution of the disputes.
Following an agreement between India and Vietnam to prospect for oil in the South China Sea, India is not exactly a distant observer. There have been unconfirmed reports of naval face offs between India and China in this region. Recently there was a little diplomatic incident; DNA reported:
Countering External Affairs Minister SM Krishna’s assertion that the South China Sea belonged to the world, a Chinese daily has said “territory” of a country can not be denoted as a global property because it amounts to surpassing its sovereign right.
While China has never objected to the freedom of the navigation in South China Sea, (SCS), “describing it as a global property is a mistake”, state-run Global Times said in an editorial questioning Krishna’s comments.
“Other countries can’t denote one country’s territory as global property.
“China claims sovereignty over the disputed area between itself and Vietnam, and according to international law, the rights of freedom of navigation and free trade in the South China Sea cannot surpass the sovereign right of the relevant country”, it said.
The editorial came even as the Chinese Foreign Ministry yesterday said that navigation in the disputed SCS dotted by numerous uninhabited islands claimed by China, Vietnam and host countries has not been disrupted in anyway by the disputes.
The other reason for the dispute is control over shipping. All shipping between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific must pass through the Straits of Malacca, which Singapore and India can control, and the South China Sea. So control over that sea is clearly of geopolitical importance. India’s entry into the South China Sea seems to be a bit of geopolitical leverage against China’s iron chain over the Indian Ocean. In turn, both of these geopolitical arenas are gateways to energy sources.