This a reposting of an earlier post. It is in the news now because Donald Trump has vowed to prevent China from claiming the area as its own. I hope that this does not lead to a shooting war.
The area is in the news now because the US sent a destroyer close to a small reef claimed by China and China protested the intrusion. To fully understand the situation, please consult a globe, such as Google Earth. Bordered by the Philippines and Vietnam, the South China sea is dotted with small islands and reefs claimed by various nations that border the Sea. Depending on the size of the island or reef, territorial waters around them overlap and/or obstruct free passage by the shipping of the world’s maritime fleets. Besides the claims of the countries in the area, the South China Sea is the site of a confrontation between the US and China. The US wants free navigation in the area so that we have access to a shortcut between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans via the Strait of Malacca. The shortcut represents a significant time and cost savings for shipping.
Then look at it from the Chinese perspective. China is a mostly landlocked nation that depends on the sea for vital imports and an inexpensive method for exports. China’s exit to the sea is largely blocked by a chain of islands between Taiwan and Japan, leaving the South China Sea as the main route for China’s manufacturing and export industries along China’s southern coast. China worries that a blockade of its coast in a future conflict could interrupt vital supply lines. Before deciding that the US is right and China is wrong, please try to see the area from the Chinese perspective. I believe that a peaceful solution can be found, but the situation is complex and neither the US nor China trusts the other side.