Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Pacific News Minute: China’s Claims to the South China Sea

Voice of America
Wikimedia Commons

At an international security conference in Singapore last weekend, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis accused Beijing of “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea – comments that a senior Chinese general branded as “irresponsible.” We have a look at the history of China’s claim to the area from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

In 1947, in the middle of China’s civil war, the Nationalist side produced the now famous map that showed a dashed line extending from the Chinese mainland to encompass almost all of the South China Sea. From its shape, it’s sometimes called the cow’s tongue. Ever since, both Chinas have insisted that the islets, rocks and shoals and all the waters around them are Chinese national territory.

There are two groups of islands. To the north, the Paracels are almost equidistant from China and Vietnam and sovereignty was long disputed between China and France – the former colonial power in Vietnam. After French withdrawal, South Vietnam took over the claim.

China seized control in 1974 after a brief naval battle.

Further south, in the Spratleys, there are overlapping claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines occupy islands there.

Over the past few years, Chinese engineers created seven artificial islands, where they’ve installed radars, runways, and now anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. 

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Crescent Group, Paracel Islands

Two years ago, an international court dismissed China’s claim – a ruling Beijing simply ignores. The recovery of all of China’s territory is one of the organizing principals of the Communist party and a focus of Chinese nationalists. With the return of Hong Kong and Macau, that effort now centers on Taiwan, and the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Related Stories