When Vietnam accused a Chinese ship Wednesday of intentionally ramming two of its vessels near a Chinese oil rig in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, it was only the latest incident in which China has provoked its neighbors by overstepping its boundaries to seize land and resources.
The collisions on Sunday significantly damaged the two Vietnamese ships, injured six people and have escalated tensions between the two Communist nations.
The state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation operates the drilling rig, despite the objection of the Vietnamese government. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei claim various parts of the South China Sea, but China has most visibly pounced on the sea’s Spratly Islands, which amount to less than two square miles of land across more than 160,000 square miles of ocean with valuable fisheries and oil and gas reserves.
According to a 1982 United Nations Convention, countries own the waters up to 12 nautical miles from their coastlines and can control resources another 200 nautical miles away from shore, which is why so many neighboring countries are claiming the tiny islands, Though minuscule in area, they are enough to give a country rights to vast ocean and ocean-floor resources. The Spratlys are so small they house no permanent settlements or villages, making the land difficult to claim as a national territory.
Philippine marines have occupied parts of the islands for nearly 15 years. In March, China blocked Philippine ships carrying supplies to the marines, claiming the ships were carrying construction supplies to build a permanent settlement.
Last May, authorities in Myanmar arrested 10 activists peacefully protesting Chinese-led oil and gas projects. Several hundred activists said their people would disproportionately bear the burden of the project with little benefit, Human Rights Watch reported. Many villagers on a pipeline route through Burma’s Maday Island reportedly lost their land due to the project and received inadequate or no compensation.
Last April, the Chinese-owned Madagascar Southern Petroleum Company was accused of lying to villagers in Madagascar to gain leases to their rice fields and to drill for oil.
As Vice News points out, if global warming causes sea levels to rise as recent U.S. and international reports predict, the low Spratly Islands could drown altogether and grant all parties equal claims to the ocean resources.