China hasn’t won yet in the South China Sea

A map of the major territorial claims in the South China Sea
China’s nine-dash line overlaps with the territorial claims of five countries. Last year an international court rejected the demarcation (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • China’s aim in the South China Sea is to reap sovereign rights, strategic advantage and economic benefit
  • On all three counts, it has had mixed success
  • Overall, Beijing is still a long way off from reaching its strategic goals

Much has been made of China’s activity in the South China Sea – its military buildup on land features, its economic strong-arming and its claims to territorial sovereignty. This has led some to believe that Beijing has gained the upper hand in this geopolitical tug-of-war. However, a closer look shows that China is far from accomplishing its aims in the region – and has even had some major setbacks. To know whether China has achieved its goals, one must first understand what they are. There are three things Beijing wants to secure in the South China Sea: sovereignty, strategic advantage and economic benefit.

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