Geopolitical flashpoint: Scarborough Shoal

February 20, 2013

Scarborough Shoal is rocky outcropping in the South China Sea that is not even visible at high tide.  It sits within the Filipino exclusive economic zone as established by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas), but China claims sovereignty over the rocks as an “historic cultural fact.”

The waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal are thought to be rich with oil and gas deposits, but they would be an object of contention even if this was not the case.   Despite its position as  the second largest nation on the Eurasian land mass, China is nonetheless highly dependent on maritime traffic for its economic health.  It’s export based economy ships most of its products by sea, and at the same time it imports most of its raw materials by the same routes.  Most of those shipping routes move through the South China Sea, and establishing dominance over that body of water is a pressing matter of national security for China.    China is years, perhaps decades, from being able to dominate its sea approaches  militarily, so it must pursue its geopolitical goals by other means.  It’s legal claims and attempts at intimidating its smaller neighbors are the convenient weapons at hand.

A detailed background on the history of Scarborough Shoal and the conflicting claims of sovereignty can be found here.



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