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Geopolitics in the South China Sea

Military Rearmament and Consequences for Europe

Besides the Taiwan issue, the South China Sea is currently the geopolitical hotspot in the Indo-Pacific. China's ultimate claim to nearly 90 percent of the sea area is causing territorial disputes with Southeast Asian littoral states and fueling tensions with power rival the United States in the region.

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China has piled up numerous artificial islands in the South China Sea over the past decade and developed them into military bases. And it continues the process of land reclamation. China's increasingly repressive actions against other states' ships and aircraft in the disputed areas increase the risk of accidents and could quickly lead to a military confrontation. The U.S. demands respect for the international law of the sea and adherence to the principles of rules-based order. This includes open and secure sea and trade routes. For China, it is about strategic depth to protect its critical coastal infrastructure and power projection in the Pacific. The South China Sea is also closely related to the Taiwan issue: If China were to attack Taiwan, the entire maritime area in the Southwest Pacific would become a theatre of war.

The South China Sea is of high strategic importance.  About one-third of the world's crude oil exports are transported by sea through the SCM, and the main sea routes for goods and raw materials shipments from Europe and Africa to Asia pass through this area. It has rich fish stocks and large oil and gas deposits are suspected. The reefs and atolls in the SCM are claimed not only by China but also by the neighbouring states of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan, and their respective exclusive economic zones overlap partially or completely.

Since 2012, China has started to fill up individual rocks, reefs, and atolls in the South China Sea into artificial islands and to build infrastructure on them. In the meantime, these islands have been transformed into full-fledged military bases and are considered an important instrument for asserting China's claim to power in the region. 

Read the entire Monitor: "Geopolitics in the South China Sea: Military buildup and consequences for Europe" from our Security series here as a PDF.

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Jan Senkyr

Jan Senkyr bild

Advisor Foreign and Security Policy +49 30 26996-3936


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