Vietnam v. China: Not a Fair Fight. But INDIA v. China….
Something I learned about while I was in China is that China claims, as a matter of international law, that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the (oil-rich) South China Sea. This graphic illustrates the scope of China’s sovereignty claims. China hasn’t had a navy that could enforce this claim, until now. So Vietnam and the Philippines have been feeling Chinese pressure on this, with the Philippines seeking to take the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. But China can throw its weight around these days, and smaller countries like Vietnam and the Philippines don’t have much leverage.
But as this article notes, Indian companies have signed agreements with Vietnam to explore for hydrocarbons in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (which is within China’s claimed sovereign territory). Indian navy ships have also been wandering around the South China Sea, and into confrontations with the Chinese navy. This has all the makings of a great power struggle. China’s claim here is, to put it bluntly, very weak under international law. But China has carefully avoided the jurisdiction of all international courts. Moreover, China being China, only nations like India (and the U.S.) have the ability to seriously contest its claims. But will they?