Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific
Ocean, encompassing an area from the Karimata and
Malacca Straits to
the Strait of
Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometres
(1,400,000 sq mi). The sea carries tremendous strategic
importance; one-third of the world's shipping passes through it
carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year, it contains lucrative
fisheries that are crucial for the food security of millions in
Southeast Asia, and huge oil and gas reserves are believed to lie
beneath its seabed.
International Hydrographic Organization
International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Limits of
Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition (1953), it is located
south of China;
east of Vietnam;
west of the Philippines;
east of the Malay peninsula and Sumatra, up to the Strait of Singapore
in the western, and
north of the
Bangka Belitung Islands
Bangka Belitung Islands and Borneo
However, in its unapproved draft 4th edition (1986), IHO proposed
the Natuna Sea, thus the South
Sea southern boundary was shifted
northward, from north of
Bangka Belitung Islands
Bangka Belitung Islands to
north and northeast of Natuna Islands.
The minute South
Sea Islands, collectively an archipelago,
number in the hundreds. The sea and its mostly uninhabited islands are
subject to competing claims of sovereignty by several countries. These
claims are also reflected in the variety of names used for the islands
and the sea.
5 Islands and seamounts
7 Territorial claims
7.1 2016 ruling
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Sea is the dominant term used in English for the sea, and
the name in most European languages is equivalent. This name is a
result of early European interest in the sea as a route from Europe
and South Asia to the trading opportunities of China. In the sixteenth
century Portuguese sailors called it the
Sea (Mare da China);
later needs to differentiate it from nearby bodies of water led to
calling it the South
China Sea. The International Hydrographic
Organization refers to the sea as "South
Sea (Nan Hai)".
The Yizhoushu, which was a chronicle of the
Western Zhou dynasty
(1046–771 BCE) gives the first Chinese name for the South
as Nanfang Hai (Chinese: 南方海; pinyin: Nánfāng Hǎi; literally:
"Southern Sea"), claiming that barbarians from that sea gave tributes
of hawksbill sea turtles to the Zhou rulers. The Classic of Poetry,
Zuo Zhuan, and Guoyu classics of the Spring and Autumn period
(771–476 BCE) also referred to the sea, but by the name Nan Hai
(Chinese: 南海; pinyin: Nán Hǎi; literally: "South Sea") in
reference to the State of Chu's expeditions there. Nan Hai, the
South Sea, was one of the
Four Seas of Chinese literature. There are
three other seas, one for each of the four cardinal directions.
Eastern Han dynasty (23–220 CE), China's rulers called
Sea Zhang Hai (Chinese: 漲海; pinyin: Zhǎng Hǎi; literally:
"distended sea"). Fei Hai (Chinese: 沸海; pinyin: Fèi Hǎi;
literally: "boil sea") became popular during the Southern and Northern
Dynasties period. Usage of the current Chinese name, Nan Hai (South
Sea), became gradually widespread during the Qing Dynasty.
In Southeast Asia it was once called the
Sea of Cham,
after the maritime kingdom of
Champa that flourished there before the
sixteenth century. The majority of the sea came under Japanese
naval control during World War II following the military acquisition
of many surrounding South East Asian territories in 1941. Japan calls
the sea Minami Shina Kai "South
China Sea". This was written
南支那海 until 2004, when the Japanese Foreign Ministry and other
departments switched the spelling to 南シナ海, which has become
the standard usage in Japan.
In China, it is called the "South Sea", 南海 Nánhǎi, and in
Vietnam the "East Sea", Biển Đông. In Malaysia,
Indonesia and the Philippines, it was long called the "South China
Sea" (Dagat Timog Tsina in Tagalog, Laut
China Selatan in Malay), with
the part within Philippine territorial waters often called the "Luzon
Sea", Dagat Luzon, by the Philippines. However, following an
escalation of the
Spratly Islands dispute
Spratly Islands dispute in 2011, various Philippine
government agencies started using the name "West Philippine Sea". A
Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services
Administration (PAGASA) spokesperson said that the sea to the east of
Philippines will continue to be called the Philippine Sea.
In September 2012, Philippine President
Benigno Aquino III
Benigno Aquino III signed
Administrative Order No. 29, mandating that all government agencies
use the name "West Philippine Sea" to refer to the parts of the South
Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, and tasked
National Mapping and Resource Information Authority
National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to
use the name in official maps.
In July 2017, to assert its sovereignty,
Indonesia renamed the
northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South
as the "North Natuna Sea", which is located north of the Indonesian
Natuna Islands, bordering the southern
Vietnam exclusive economic
zone, corresponding to the southern end of the South
The "Natuna Sea" is located south of Natuna
Island within Indonesian
territorial waters. Therefore,
Indonesia has named two seas that
are portions of the South
China Sea; the
Natuna Sea located between
Natuna Islands and the Lingga and Tambelan Archipelagos, and the North
Natuna Sea located between the
Natuna Islands and
Cape Cà Mau
Cape Cà Mau on the
southern tip of the
Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
States and territories with borders on the sea (clockwise from north)
Macau and Hong Kong), Taiwan, the
Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Major rivers that flow into the South
Sea include the Pearl,
Min, Jiulong, Red, Mekong, Rajang, Pahang, Pampanga, and Pasig Rivers.
International Hydrographic Organization
International Hydrographic Organization in its Limits of Oceans
and Seas, 3rd edition (1953), defines the limits of the South China
Sea as follows:
On the South. The Eastern and Southern limits of
Singapore and Malacca
Straits [A line joining Tanjong Datok, the Southeast point of Johore
(1°22′N 104°17′E / 1.367°N 104.283°E / 1.367;
104.283) through Horsburgh
Reef to Pulo Koko, the Northeastern extreme
Bintan Island (1°13.5′N 104°35′E / 1.2250°N
104.583°E / 1.2250; 104.583). The Northeastern coast of Sumatra]
as far West as Tanjong Kedabu (1°06′N 102°58′E / 1.100°N
102.967°E / 1.100; 102.967) down the East coast of
Lucipara Point (3°14′S 106°05′E / 3.233°S 106.083°E /
-3.233; 106.083) thence to Tanjong Nanka, the Southwest extremity of
Banka Island, through this island to Tanjong Berikat the Eastern point
(2°34′S 106°51′E / 2.567°S 106.850°E / -2.567;
106.850), on to Tanjong Djemang (2°36′S 107°37′E /
2.600°S 107.617°E / -2.600; 107.617) in Billiton, along the
North coast of this island to Tanjong Boeroeng Mandi (2°46′S
108°16′E / 2.767°S 108.267°E / -2.767; 108.267) and
thence a line to Tanjong Sambar (3°00′S 110°19′E /
3.000°S 110.317°E / -3.000; 110.317) the Southwest extreme of
On the East. From Tanjong Sambar through the West coast of
Tanjong Sampanmangio, the North point, thence a line to West points of
Balabac and Secam Reefs, on to the West point of Bancalan
to Cape Buliluyan, the Southwest point of Palawan, through this island
to Cabuli Point, the Northern point thereof, thence to the Northwest
point of Busuanga and to Cape Calavite in the island of Mindoro, to
the Northwest point of
Lubang Island and to Point Fuego (14°08'N) in
Luzon Island, through this island to Cape Engano, the Northeast point
of Luzon, along a line joining this cape with the East point of
Island (20°N) and to the East point of Y'Ami Island
(21°05'N) thence to Garan Bi, the Southern point of
through this island to Santyo (25°N) its North Eastern Point.
On the North. From Fuki Kaku the North point of
Formosa to Kiushan Tao
(Turnabout Island) on to the South point of Haitan Tao (25°25'N) and
thence Westward on the parallel of 25°24' North to the coast of
On the West. The Mainland, the Southern limit of the Gulf of Thailand
and the East coast of the Malay Peninsula.
However, in a revised edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas, 4th
edition (1986), the
International Hydrographic Organization
International Hydrographic Organization officially
recognized the Natuna Sea. Thus the southern limit of South
is revised from the
Bangka Belitung Islands
Bangka Belitung Islands to the Natuna Islands.
See also: Tectonics of the South
Sunset on the South
Mũi Né village on the south-east
coast of Vietnam
The sea lies above a drowned continental shelf; during recent ice ages
global sea level was hundreds of metres lower, and
Borneo was part of
the Asian mainland.
Sea opened around 45 million years ago when the
"Dangerous Ground" rifted away from southern China. Extension
culminated in seafloor spreading around 30 million years ago, a
process that propagated to the SW resulting in the V-shaped basin we
see today. Extension ceased around 17 million years ago. Arguments
have continued about the role of tectonic extrusion in forming the
basin. Paul Tapponnier and colleagues have argued that as India
collides with Asia it pushes
Indochina to the SE. The relative shear
China caused the South
Sea to open.
This view is disputed by geologists[who?] who do not consider
Indochina to have moved far relative to mainland Asia. Marine
geophysical studies in the
Gulf of Tonkin
Gulf of Tonkin by
Peter Clift has shown
Red River Fault
Red River Fault was active and causing basin formation at
least by 37 million years ago in the NW South
China Sea, consistent
with extrusion playing a part in the formation of the sea. Since
opening the South
Sea has been the repository of large sediment
volumes delivered by the
Mekong River, Red River and Pearl River.
Several of these deltas are rich in oil and gas deposits.
Islands and seamounts
See also: South
Sea contains over 250 small islands, atolls, cays,
shoals, reefs, and sandbars, most of which have no indigenous people,
many of which are naturally under water at high tide, and some of
which are permanently submerged. The features are grouped into three
archipelagos (listed by area size),
Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough
The Spratly Islands
The Paracel Islands
The Pratas Islands
The Macclesfield Bank
The Scarborough Shoal
Spratly Islands spread over an 810 by 900 km area covering
some 175 identified insular features, the largest being Taiping Island
(Itu Aba) at just over 1.3 km long and with its highest elevation
at 3.8 metres.
The largest singular feature in the area of the
Spratly Islands is a
100 km wide seamount called Reed Tablemount, also known as Reed
Bank, in the northeast of the group, separated from
Philippines by the
Palawan Trench. Now completely submerged, with
a depth of 20 m, it was an island until it sank about 7,000 years ago
due to the increasing sea level after the last ice age. With an area
of 8,866 km², it is one of the largest submerged atoll
structures in the world.
Sea is an extremely significant body of water in a
geopolitical sense. It is the second most used sea lane in the world,
while in terms of world annual merchant fleet tonnage, over 50% passes
through the Strait of Malacca, the Sunda Strait, and the Lombok
Strait. Over 1.6 million m³ (10 million barrels) of crude oil a day
are shipped through the Strait of Malacca, where there are regular
reports of piracy, but much less frequently than before the mid-20th
The region has proven oil reserves of around 1.2 km³ (7.7
billion barrels), with an estimate of 4.5 km³ (28 billion
barrels) in total.
Natural gas reserves are estimated to total around
7,500 km³ (266 trillion cubic feet). A 2013 report by the U.S.
Energy Information Administration raised the total estimated oil
reserves to 11 billion barrels. In 2014
China began to drill for
oil in waters disputed with Vietnam.
According to studies made by the Department of Environment and Natural
Resources, Philippines, this body of water holds one third of the
entire world's marine biodiversity, thereby making it a very important
area for the ecosystem. However the fish stocks in the area are
depleted, and countries are using fishing bans as a means of asserting
their sovereignty claims.
Indonesia's maritime waters have been breached by fishing fleets from
Vietnam and the
Philippines leading to said ships being seized and
sunk by Indonesian authorities.
China announced in May 2017 a breakthrough for mining methane
clathrates, when they extracted methane from hydrates in the South
Main articles: Territorial disputes in the South
Sea and Spratly
Territorial claims in the South
Map of various countries occupying the Spratly Islands
Several countries have made competing territorial claims over the
China Sea. Such disputes have been regarded as Asia's most
potentially dangerous point of conflict. Both People's Republic of
China (PRC) and the Republic of
China (ROC, commonly known as Taiwan)
claim almost the entire body as their own, demarcating their claims
within what is known as the nine-dotted line, which claims overlap
with virtually every other country in the region. Competing claims
Indonesia, China, and
Taiwan over waters NE of the Natuna Islands
The Philippines, China, and
Taiwan over Scarborough Shoal.
Vietnam, China, and
Taiwan over waters west of the Spratly Islands.
Some or all of the islands themselves are also disputed between
Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Paracel Islands are disputed between the China,
Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and
Vietnam over areas in the Gulf of
Malaysia along the Strait of Johore and the Strait of
Vietnam have both been vigorous in prosecuting their claims.
China (various governments) and South
Vietnam each controlled part of
Paracel Islands before 1974. A brief conflict in 1974 resulted in
18 Chinese and 53 Vietnamese deaths, and
China has controlled the
whole of Paracel since then. The
Spratly Islands have been the site of
a naval clash, in which over 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed just
south of Chigua
Reef in March 1988. Disputing claimants regularly
report clashes between naval vessels.
ASEAN in general, and
Malaysia in particular, have been keen to ensure
that the territorial disputes within the South
Sea do not
escalate into armed conflict. As such, Joint Development Authorities
have been set up in areas of overlapping claims to jointly develop the
area and divide the profits equally without settling the issue of
sovereignty over the area. This is true particularly in the Gulf of
China has preferred to resolve competing claims
bilaterally, while some
ASEAN countries prefer multilateral
talks, believing that they are disadvantaged in bilateral
negotiations with the much larger
China and that because many
countries claim the same territory only multilateral talks could
effectively resolve the competing claims.
The overlapping claims over Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Putih including
Middle Rocks by both
settled in 2008 by the International Court of Justice, awarding Pedra
Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh to
Singapore and the
Middle Rocks to Malaysia.
In July 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for China
to resolve the territorial dispute.
China responded by demanding the
US keep out of the issue. This came at a time when both countries had
been engaging in naval exercises in a show of force to the opposing
side, which increased tensions in the region. The US
Department of Defense released a statement on August 18 where it
opposed the use of force to resolve the dispute, and accused
assertive behaviour. On July 22, 2011, one of India's
amphibious assault vessels, the INS Airavat which was on a friendly
visit to Vietnam, was reportedly contacted at a distance of 45
nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast in the disputed South China
Sea on an open radio channel by a vessel identifying itself as the
Chinese Navy and stating that the ship was entering Chinese
waters. The spokesperson for the Indian Navy clarified that as
no ship or aircraft was visible from INS Airavat it proceeded on her
onward journey as scheduled. The Indian Navy further clarified that
"[t]here was no confrontation involving the INS Airavat. India
supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in
China Sea, and the right of passage in accordance with
accepted principles of international law. These principles should be
respected by all."
In September 2011, shortly after
Vietnam had signed an
agreement seeking to contain a dispute over the South
India's state-run explorer,
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC)
said that its overseas investment arm ONGC Videsh Limited had signed a
three-year deal with Petro
Vietnam for developing long-term cooperation
in the oil sector and that it had accepted Vietnam's offer of
exploration in certain specified blocks in the South
China Sea. In
response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu issued a
protest. The spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs of
the Government of India responded by saying that “The Chinese had
concerns but we are going by what the Vietnamese authorities have told
us and have conveyed this to the Chinese.” The Indo-Vietnamese
deal was also denounced by the Chinese state-run newspaper Global
Reef being built by
China and transformed into an artificial
Taiwan claimed the entirety of the South
Lee Teng-hui administration. The entire subsoil, seabed
and waters of the Paracels and Spratlys are claimed by Taiwan.
In 2012 and 2013,
Taiwan butted heads against each other
over anti-Vietnamese military exercises by Taiwan.
In May 2014,
China established an oil rig near the Paracel Islands,
leading to multiple incidents between Vietnamese and Chinese
In 2017, analysts expect the US, under Donald Trump's administration,
to take a more aggressive stance against
China in the South China
Philippines v. China
In January 2013, the
Philippines formally initiated arbitration
proceedings against China's claim on the territories within the
"Nine-Dash Line" that includes the Spratly Islands, which it said is
unlawful under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS). On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal backed the
Philippines, saying that there was no evidence that
historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources,
hence there was "no legal basis for
China to claim historic rights"
over the nine-dash line. The tribunal also criticized China's
land reclamation projects and its construction of artificial islands
in the Spratly Islands, saying that it had caused "severe harm to the
coral reef environment". It also characterized Taiping
other features of the
Spratly Islands as "rocks" under UNCLOS, and
therefore are not entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic
China however rejected the ruling, calling it
"ill-founded". Taiwan, which currently administers Taiping Island,
the largest of the Spratly Islands, also rejected the ruling.
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West York Island
Third Thomas Shoal
First Thomas Shoal
Second Thomas Shoal
Johnson South Reef
Sin Cowe Island
Cornwallis South Reef
Central London Reef
East London Reef
West London Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Royal Captain Shoal
Half Moon Shoal
History of the Spratly Islands
Spratly Islands dispute
Philippines and the Spratly Islands
Battle of the
Paracel Islands (1974)
Southwest Cay incident (1975)
Reef Skirmish (1988)
Scarborough Shoal standoff (2012)
Hai Yang Shi You 981 standoff
Hai Yang Shi You 981 standoff (2014)
Paracel Islands Airports
Spratly Islands Airports
Seas of the Philippines
San Bernardino Strait
San Juanico Strait
See also: Bodies of water of the Philippines
Seas of China
Earth's oceans and seas
East Siberian Sea
Gulf of Boothia
Prince Gustav Adolf Sea
Queen Victoria Sea
Bay of Biscay
Bay of Bothnia
Bay of Campeche
Bay of Fundy
Gulf of Bothnia
Gulf of Finland
Gulf of Lion
Gulf of Guinea
Gulf of Maine
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Saint Lawrence
Gulf of Sidra
Gulf of Venezuela
Sea of Åland
Sea of Azov
Sea of Crete
Sea of the Hebrides
Bay of Bengal
Great Australian Bight
Gulf of Aden
Gulf of Aqaba
Gulf of Khambhat
Gulf of Kutch
Gulf of Oman
Gulf of Suez
Gulf of Alaska
Gulf of Anadyr
Gulf of California
Gulf of Carpentaria
Gulf of Fonseca
Gulf of Panama
Gulf of Thailand
Gulf of Tonkin
Mar de Grau
Sea of Japan
Sea of Okhotsk
Seto Inland Sea
King Haakon VII Sea
Coordinates: 12°N 113°E / 12°N 113°E / 12; 113