While global headlines focus on the recent clash between Indian and Chinese military forces in a Himalayan border region, China has also flexed its muscles recently in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Beginning in mid-April, a Chinese survey ship accompanied by coast guard vessels entered Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, near an oil exploration vessel contracted by Petronas, the Malaysian state oil firm, and stayed in the region for approximately a month. The move was seen as threatening, and Malaysia deployed naval vessels to the region. The Chinese ship eventually retreated.

Around the same time, Vietnam protested the establishment of two new administrative units established by the government of China in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, Chinese jets have repeatedly entered Taiwan’s Air Identification Zone in the last week, according to a Reuters report.

As tensions heat up in the South China Sea, it’s worth remembering how vital this waterway is to global trade. To wit:

  • Some $5 trillion of world trade passes through the South China Sea, accounting for nearly 1/3 of all global seaborne trade
  • There may be some 28 billion barrels of oil in the waters, waiting to be exploited
  • Additionally, there is an estimated 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas
  • The sea also contains 10% of the world’s fisheries

Anti Panda has a good piece in the Diplomat today, based on a CSIS survey, of how Southeast Asian elites view the growing competition in the South China Sea.

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