Geopolitics of the South China Sea: How Territory, Territoriality, and Sovereignty Reflect China's Ambitions
The disputes in the South China Sea involve overlapping territorial claims from multiple nations and have grown increasingly contentious over the past decade. The area is rich in natural resources and is strategically significant regarding international trade and military capabilities. Due to the significance of the area, the competing claims have global ramifications and the conflict involves actors beyond the region. This paper examines the geopolitical factors involved in the disputes and how they shape states' actions in relation to the South China Sea. Specifically, this paper will show how China's actions in the South China Sea reflect both the geography of the region, and also its political ambitions in the region and international community. The states' claims contend the territory, territoriality, and sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea, and are based on both international law and historical evidence illustrated in the case between the Philippines and China in the Scarborough Shoal. It demonstrates China's tactics for managing competing claims, its increasing military capabilities, and the uncertainty of resolutions to the conflict. The mechanisms for the resolution of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea are shown to be largely ineffective given the differing basis of claims over the South China Sea states have. International institutions, such as United Nations tribunals, and other nations without direct claims in the South China Sea, such as the United States, have interests in the conflict related to the peaceful resolution of disputes between nations, while also influencing states' actions. This paper reviews the concepts of geopolitics and how China's strategy in the South China Sea reflects both critical and classical geopolitics and its objective of regional hegemony.