Mainland China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim overlapping areas of the South China Sea. In the absence of consensus regarding legitimate jurisdiction, claimants have moved to occupy and counteract each other for the past 70 years. However, legal and military manoeuvring in the region has intensified recently, with conflicting claims coming to a head.
Mainland China’s claim to the region – the nine-dash line – was challenged by the Philippines in 2013 under the provisions of a UN convention. Ahead of rulings on the case by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Beijing stole a march and artificially expanded seven features in the region in 2014 and 2015. Though often portrayed in recent years as an aggressor in the region, historically, mainland China was one of the last claimants to occupy disputed islands militarily.
Beijing outlines the area it claims in the South China Sea with a nine-dash line, rather than a continuous border. Various other claimants have sought a clearer delineation of its claims from officials. Mainland China occupied the Paracel Islands following the battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974. In the Spratly Islands, it has occupied six features since 1988 and Mischief Reef since late 1994/early 1995.