The South China Sea is a powder keg of territorial claims mized with oil and gas resources.
Almost every country in the area has a longstanding animus towards at least one of its neighbours. China claims 90% of the Sea, and Beijing is viewed with fear and suspicion throughout the region.
The U.S. and Chinese militaries are both entrenched there — Japan is slowly building its military capabilities in the face of a perceived Chinese threat while Vietnam and the Philippines are emerging as regional players.
The South China sea is where the world’s next major interstate power struggle will play out. Any blowup there will almost necessarily involve China and the U.S., which have the two largest economies on earth.
But the confrontation has already begun, with China claiming everything within its now-infamous “nine-dash line,” and nearly all of its neighbours involved in disputes along the line’s edges. What’s still unclear is just how bad things could plausibly get there.
Here are the South China Sea’s major flashpoints:
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