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Map of the South China Sea

Vietnamese fishing boat on the South China Sea
A Vietnamese fishing boat on the South China Sea. In the background, the Cham Islands off the Vietnamese coast opposite Hoi An.
Image: Jean-Pierre Bluteau

About the South China Sea (SCS)

Topographic Map of the South China Sea region
Topographic map of the South China Sea and neighboring countries.

Geography of the South China Sea

The maps show the South China Sea, an arm of the western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia, south of China, east and south of Vietnam, west of the Philippines and north of the island of Borneo. The body of water is bounded by the east coast of the Malay Peninsula and the southern part of the Gulf of Thailand. The sea covers approximately 3,700,000 km² (1,350,000 sq mi), this is larger than the area of India. It is connected by the Taiwan Strait with the East China Sea and by the Luzon Strait with the Philippine Sea (both marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean).

Several countries are bordering the South China Sea; there are peninsular Malaysia, Thailand (via the Gulf of Thailand), Singapore, as well as East Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia on Borneo (Kalimantan).

Within the SCS, there are numerous coral reefs, atolls, and small islands. The two major archipelagos are known as the Paracel Islands, controlled by China, and the Spratly Islands. The entire Spratly Islands are claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, and China, while Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim part of the archipelago.

Transportation in the South China Sea
Major international shipping lanes use the South China Sea. It is the second most used sea lane in the world. Due to the underdeveloped transport infrastructure of the adjoining states, the lack of modern roads and railways, the region depends heavily on ship transport. The South China Sea is a significant trade route for crude oil from the Persian Gulf and Africa through the Strait of Malacca to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. In 2016, more than 30% of the global maritime crude oil trade, or about 15 million barrels per day, passed through the South China Sea. [1]

Hundreds of smaller harbors and three major ports, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, serve as important trans-shipment centers.

The shipping lanes in the South China Sea connect East Asia with India, Western Asia, Europe, and Africa via the Taiwan and Luzon Straits in the northeast, the Sunda and Lombok Straits in the south, and the Strait of Malacca in the southwest.

Map of the South China Sea

Political Map of the South China Sea
Political Map of the South China Sea

Map of the South China Sea and adjacent marginal seas and straits, neighboring countries, major islands and archipelagos, major cities, international and maritime boundaries (nine-dash line), the Taiwan Strait median line.

You are free to use the above map for educational and similar purposes; if you publish it online or in print, you need to credit Nations Online Project as the source.

Territorial Claims
China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning (辽宁舰) in the waters of the South China Sea.
China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning (辽宁舰) in the South China Sea.
Image: The National Interest

The South China Sea disputes concern both island and maritime claims between several sovereign states within the region. The conflicts are triggered by the interest in raw material deposits, rich fishing grounds, and hegemony in the South China Sea.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all have their own interests and claim areas far beyond the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Under Article 55 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the EEZ is defined as the sea area beyond the territorial sea. Within the EEZ, the coastal state can exercise sovereign rights and sovereign powers to a limited extent.

An interesting detail is that China has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, while the US has signed but never ratified it.

Anyhow, China claims, more or less, the right to control nearly the whole South China Sea. It tries to bolster its claims with 'historic rights', artificial island-building, and military expansion. Its all-encompassing "nine-dash line" (the tongue of the dragon; see map), reaches more than 2,000 km (1,300 mi) deep into the South China Sea, regardless of neutral international waters or the exclusive economic zones of other countries.

In July 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague rejected China's claims in the South China Sea and ruled that China has "no historical rights" based on the "nine-dash line" map. The court also ruled that China has, through its construction of installations and artificial islands at Mischief Reef (Spratly Islands) without the authorization of the Philippines, breached Articles 60 and 80 of the international convention.

On the other hand, it just might be a desperate measure by China to counteract the growing presence of US military on the doorstep of its nation in East Asia and Maritime Southeast Asia. [2] [3]

Maps of Countries depicted on the Map of the South China Sea:

Cambodia Map, China Map, Indonesia Map, Laos Map, Malaysia Map, Myanmar Map, Philippines Map, Singapore Map, Taiwan Map, Thailand Map, Vietnam Map