China's claims are without legal merit and reflect an aggressive military approach to test limits of international community
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China’s claims to those resources rest in part on his- toric claims illustrated in a map in which a series of nine dashed lines indicate some degree of jurisdiction over virtually all of the waters of the region (a similar claim has been made by Taiwan). With regard to U.S. naval op- erations, China has argued that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) prohibits foreign military operations within its EEZ, a contention found nowhere in the text of the convention itself. China has raised the stakes by stating that control of the South China Sea and its resources is a core national interest on par with its claims to Tibet, Taiwan, and Xinjiang.
Yet Chinese claims are ambiguous. Does the nine-dash chart signify territorial claims to the South China Sea and the seafloor, or does it apply only to the rocks and their territorial sea within the marked zone? Are the claims really a “core interest,” or are they a starting point for negotiating the division of fishing and energy resources of the region?4
China’s arguments and actions reflect its regional per- spective and willingness to exercise its military in pursuit of regional interests. This is changing as China becomes increasingly reliant on distant sea lanes for access to stra- tegic and critical materials, particularly energy from the Persian Gulf, minerals from Africa, and recently, resources passing the Arctic. Security of sea lanes is now becoming a part of its strategic world view.