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Timeline: Disputes in the South China Sea

Updated On: Jul 01, 2011

6 December 2011
President Hu Jintao, addressing deputies of the PLA Navy, urged the Navy to "make extended preparations for warfare in order to make greater contributions to safeguarding national security and world peace."  [Xinhua, 6 Dec 2011] However, it is reported that the term “junshi douzheng” originally used in President Hu’s speech and translated by Xinhua as “warfare” can also be translated as “military combat” or “military struggle.” [Global Post, 6 Dec 2011] The Pentagon sought to play down President Hu's speech, saying that China had the right to develop its military, but in a transparent manner. [AFP, 6 Dec 2011]

21 November 2011
During the East Asia conference, the US and ASEAN countries aligned to effectively pressure China on their claims to hold "indisputable sovereignty" over the South China Seas. In spite of Chinese warnings not to bring up the issue, 16 of the 18 nations spoke out on the question of territorial rights, putting China on the defensive. When it came for his turn to speak, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao appeared to acknowledge the concerns of ASEAN countries. Indeed, it was more telling that he did not rule out multilateral negotiations as China has done previously. 
SIIA Insight: Round-up: ASEAN and East Asia Summit [21 Nov 2011]

27 October 2011
Philippine and Vietnamese presidents have agreed to strengthen cooperation between their maritime forces in responding to incidents in the South China Sea. ExxonMobil discover oil and gas off Vietnam's central coast in an area which falls within Chinese claims to the South China Sea.
SIIA Insight: UPDATE: South China Sea Developments [27 Oct 2011]

25 October 2011
Global Times commentary warns of "sounds of cannons" if nations involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea "don't want to change their ways with China."  [Global Times, 25 Oct 2011] 

20 October 2011
Annual joint US-Philippines marine drills begin, which include a hostile beach assault exercise near the Spratlys. At the same time, a Philippine warship accidentally struck a Chinese fishing boat in near the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea, leading to an apology by the Philippine Navy.
SIIA Insight: Philippines apologises to China over maritime incident, amid US-Philippine wargames [20 Oct 2011]

18 October 2011
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba proposed a multilateral framework to settle maritime disputes in the South China Sea during a tour of Indonesia and other South-east Asian countries, with China reiterating that it wants to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea through talks between nations that are directly involved, rather than involving other countries.
SIIA Insight: Maritime Disputes: China-Vietnam statement; Japan boosts air force [18 Oct 2011]

11 October 2011
China and Vietnam held talks about control of disputed islands in potentially oil-rich waters claimed by both nations. Both sides signed an agreement that seeks a peaceful resolution for the dispute by maintaining direct communications between the leaders of both countries.   [AFP, 11 Oct 2011] 

25 July 2011
Maritime and legal experts from Southeast Asia meet in Manila for two days to discuss a Philippine proposal for conflict prevention over disputed territory in the South China Sea.  [VOA, 22 Sep 2011]

1 September 2011
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III visited China, with trade and investment at the top of the agenda. The two countries signed a five-year plan to boost trade six-fold to $60 billion and promote tourism and language training. Aquino also sought to repair bilateral relations as tensions have increased over the South China Sea.
SIIA Insight: Aquino announces Philippines is "open for business" in China [1 Sep 2011]

25 July 2011
Progress is deemed to have been made during the ASEAN Regional Forum. China and ASEAN established a deal to create a set of  guidelines for future negotiations to establish a “code of conduct” as a “first step” towards a more sweeping, binding code of conduct. Chinese Foreign minister Yang Jiechi has told claimants that “freedom of navigation in the region is guaranteed,” as China has sought to keep the US out of direct negotiations on the region. [AFP, 24 Jul 2011]

19 July 2011
The South China Sea dispute is a key topic of discussion at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expresses frustration over the drawn-out nature of the talks and urges foreign ministers to accelerate negotiations and finalise guidelines. [AFP, 19 Jul 2011] The Philippines announces that it will send five congressmen to the disputed Spratly Islands to support its territorial claims; China says the trip "serves no purpose but to undermine peace and stability in the region and sabotage the China-Philippines relationship." [BBC, 19 Jul 2011]

17 July 2011
A small group of Vietnamese march to denounce China's actions despite a police crackdown. [17 Jul 2011]

15 July 2011
Vietnam and US launch a series of naval exchanges. The exercises are confined to noncombat training and are stressed by the US to be part of routine exchanges that were planned months in advance. China deems the timing of the exercises "inappropriate," saying they should have been rescheduled. [WSJ, 16 Jul 2011]
SIIA Insight: US and Vietnam begin joint naval exercises amid strained ties with China [18 Jul 2011]

14 July 2011
Armed Chinese soldiers allegedly beat a Vietnamese fisherman and threatens other crew members before driving them out of waters near the contested Paracel Islands. [14 Jul 2011]

13 July 2011
The Philippines states that China's refusal to allow a UN-backed tribunal to rule on the territorial dispute indicates that Beijing's claim stands on shaky legal ground. [AFP, 13 Jul 2011]

11 July 2011
American and Chinese military chiefs argue about US exercises in the South China Sea; Chinese army chief says the US military exercises with the Philippines and Vietnam were "extremely inappropriate." [BBC, 11 Jul 2011] The US remains committed to maintaining its presence in the Sea. [Reuters & AFP, 11 Jul 2011]

9 July 2011
The US, Japanese and Australian navies hold a joint drill in the South China Sea, Japan's first joint military exercise in the territory. [SaiGon GP, 8 Jul 2011]

6 July 2011
The Philippines' Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario visits China to seek a diplomatic solution. Del Rosario calls for the dispute to go before a UN tribunal, but China rejects the proposal. The two countries agree "not to let the maritime disputes affect the broader picture of friendship and cooperation of the two countries." [CNN, 8 Jul 2011]

3 July 2011
About 100 anti-China protesters march peacefully in Vietnam, denouncing China's actions in the Sea, despite a heavy security clampdown. [AFP, 3 Jul 2011]

28 June 2011
The US and the Philippines begin routine naval drills near the South China Sea. [BBC, 28 Jun 2011]

SIIA Insight: US, Philippines conduct naval drills near South China Sea [29 Jun 2011]

27 June 2011
The US Senate unanimously passes a resolution condemning China’s use of force in the South China Sea, urging a peaceful, multilateral solution. China rejects the resolution, saying that the disputes should only be resolved through negotiations between claimants and maintaining that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire Sea. [CS Monitor, 28 Jun 2011]

26 June 2011
China and Vietnam agree to hold talks and resolve the territorial dispute. China reports a pact with Vietnam to resolve the conflict through “negotiations and friendly consultations,” though no detail is provided on how these negotiations will take place. [NY Times, 26 Jun 2011]

SIIA Insight: China reports agreement with Vietnam on South China Sea [27 Jun 2011]

25 June 2011
The US calls for China to cool tensions over the disputed territory and reiterates its commitment to defending its longtime ally, the Philippines. China rejects this call, telling the US to stay out of its regional disputes. [AFP, 27 Jun 2011]

23 June 2011
The Philippines says it hopes to lease naval equipment from the US in the face of rising friction with China. [23 Jun 2011]

18 June 2011
The US and Vietnam jointly call for freedom of navigation and rejects the use of force in the South China Sea.

13 June 2011
Vietnam holds live-fire drills in the South China Sea. Anti-China protests break out in Hanoi, as more than 100 people demonstrate against what they see as bullying behaviour by Beijing. Taiwan, which claims the Spratlys, Paracel and Pratas islands in its constitution, mulls strengthening its presence in the area by sending missile boats. [BBC, 10 Jun 2011]

SIIA Insight: South China Sea: Taiwan may deploy missile boats, Vietnam holds live fire drills, US comments [13 Jun 2011]

12 June 2011
Anti-China rallies continue in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi for a second straight weekend. [Reuters, 12 Jun 2011] Vietnam seeks US support in the dispute. [FT, 12 Jun 2011]

9 June 2011
Vietnam reports that a Chinese fishing boat, supported by Chinese naval patrols, cut a cable being used by a craft operated by state-run energy company PetroVietnam. Vietnam says the ship was operating over its continental shelf and within its exclusive economic zone. [Bloomberg, 9 Jun 2011]

SIIA Insight: Tension escalates over further disputes in South China Sea, Spratly Islands[10 Jun 2011]

8 June 2011
China steps up its criticism of the Philippines, calling on Manila to stop infringing its sovereignty with claims over the South China Sea. [Reuters, 8 Jun 2011]

5 June 2011
The South China Sea dispute dominates discussion at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Vietnam confirms that it holds China responsible for the 27 May incident, while China commits itself to maintaining peace and stability in the Sea. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warns that “there will be clashes” in the Sea unless multilateral mechanisms are strengthened. [Today, 6 Jun 2011] 
SIIA Insight: South China Sea dominates discussion at Shangri-La Dialogue [6 Jun 2011]

1 June 2011
Manila reports that Chinese navy boats erected pillars and set unloaded materials near Amy Douglas Bank inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. [FT, 1 Jun 2011]

28 May 2011
China criticises Vietnam for its offshore exploration of oil and gas in the Sea. [Reuters, 28 May 2011]

27 May 2011
Chinese patrol boats cut the cables of a Vietnamese ship while performing an underwater survey of the South China Sea. Vietnam accuses China of violating its sovereignty and a 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, while China argues that Vietnam’s oil and gas operations have undermined China’s interests and rights in the area. [BBC, 30 May 2011] 
SIIA Insight: South China Sea tensions flare up again [27 May 2011]

13 April 2011
The Philippines states that Beijing’s stance on the disputed areas in the Sea have no basis under international law. [AP, 14 Apr 2011]

28 March 2011
The Philippines announces its increase in air and naval patrols and its plans to upgrade an airstrip on an island it occupies in the South China Sea. [Straits Times, 28 Mar 2011]

4 March 2011
The Philippines reports that two Chinese patrol boats threatened to ram a survey ship near the Reed Bank. [GMA News, 3 Mar 2011]

23 July 2010
China is angered after the United States takes up the issue of disputes in the South China Sea at a regional forum. [China-US Focus, 23 Jun 2011]

March 2005
Oil companies from China, Vietnam and the Philippines sign a deal to jointly protect oil and gas resources in the Sea. [China MFA, 15 Mar 2005]

May 2003
Vietnam issues a “sovereignty” declaration on the Chinese ban on fishing in the South China Sea, claiming that Vietnam has rights to the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

November 2002
China and ASEAN adopt the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties on the South China Sea, setting the stage for possible commercial cooperation and long-term stability.[ASEANSec, 4 Nov 2002]

In May, Chinese and Philippine foreign ministers agree to “contribute positively toward the formulation and adoption of the regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.” In December, Vietnam and China sign two agreements to resolve long-standing territorial disputes over the Gulf of Tonkin. 

China and the Philippines have a conflict in Mischief Reef, signaling China’s aggression toward nations besides Vietnam in the South China Sea. In August, the Philippines and China reject the use of force to settle their disputes; the Philippines and Vietnam negotiate a similar creed in November.

China distributes a map claiming the entire South China Sea, including all the Spratly Islands.

China lands forces on Da Ba Dau reef near Vietnam’s claims in Sin Cowe East, triggering a small military skirmish between the two powers. Amid mounting criticism, China offers to negotiate Spratly disputes and reiterates its pledge not to use force.

China passes the Law on Territorial Waters and Their Contiguous Areas, formalising its claim to the Paracel and Spratly Islands.  Indonesia organises a meeting for the six claimants to the Spratly Islands to find a peaceful solution. At the meeting, China and other countries along the South China Sea agree to resolve differences peacefully and to avoid unilateral actions that would increase tension.

China and Vietnam fight a naval battle just off the Spratly Islands in March.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos claims the entire territory as part of the Philippines, redrawing the country’s map.

North and South Vietnam unify.

South Vietnam occupies part of the Spratly Islands.

In January, Chinese military units seize islands in the Paracels, occupied by South Vietnamese armed forces, and China claims sovereignty over the Spratlys.

Japan renounces all rights to the Spratly Islands. No resolution is made on who owns them.

The Philippines claims some of the eastern Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Reef.

China declares the Spratlys as part of Guangdong province. 

The Spratly Islands are invaded and occupied by Japan during the Second World War. 

China officially claims all the Spratly Islands.

China first discovers the Spratly Islands and other islands in the South China Sea, and begins to occupy and govern them. 




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