It is no secret that the United States of America (USA) and China are two of the most powerful countries in the international community. The recent South China Sea dispute is an ongoing conflict that involves China and a couple of countries in Southeast Asia situated next to the controversial and contested islands. There are two groups of islands that are up for contention namely the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands. China, Taiwan and Vietnam are competing for the Paracel Islands while Brunei, Malaysia, China, the Philippines and Vietnam compete for the Spratly Islands. China claims both islands and claims that they both entirely belong to the People’s Republic of China based on the history of the region. The main reason for the contention of the islands is because the islands are rich in deposits of natural resources. The islands serve as military vicinities and could also open regional trade routes for countries in control. While the dispute involves Asian countries, the USA has been playing a prominent role in the whole saga. It has openly stated that it believes the South China Sea is international water and the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) should determine sovereignty in the area. The USA also believes that China is planning to use the islands for military intentions, this emanates from the large runway and the conversion of reefs to military facilities sourced from satellite images that the USA has on the islands. The involvement of the USA in the region sparks important questions. Is the involvement of the USA in the South China Sea dispute purely for international cooperation and the promotion of peace and stability? What is the USA’s national interest in this regard?
It can also be argued that since USA and China are two of the most influential countries in the world; there’s a power game at play where both countries do not want one to be a step or two ahead of the other. For instance, in this case, the USA does not want China to own the islands because it is concerned that China will gain more power and influence in that Southern Asia region and also in controlling the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs).
The USA disapproves of the artificial islands built by China mainly for security reasons. In a recent two day meeting between the USA and Australia in Boston, the two countries expressed strong concerns about the artificial islands. The Chinese Embassy hit back by stating that the two countries are applying double standards and should not take sides especially when they should be promoting peace and stability.
Since China has claimed the disputed islands and does not tolerate violation of its maritime and territorial boundaries, it will be very interesting to note future developments in that region. The USA says that the South China Sea is international water and it will fly, sail and operate where international law allows. Such statements may lead to future intensification and disagreements between China and the USA over the South China Sea.