In asserting its claims to the tiny islands, rocks and reefs in the South China Sea, China points to records of its ancient mariners. Today, those waters are far more important to China than in the age of the sail.
That’s because the area may hold oil riches that rival Saudi Arabia’s, a prospect that is stoking tensions in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes as China undertakes its once- in-a-decade leadership transition.
China’s assertiveness over a vast stretch of sea has grown in lockstep with its economic clout as it overtook the U.S. to become the world’s largest energy user. It is encountering competition over the rights from others, notably Vietnam and the Philippines, which are also asserting their claims.
“There is no advantage for China to back down or enter negotiations,” said Andrew Nathan, a scholar of Chinese politics and foreign policy at Columbia University…
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