One of the most important conflicts ongoing at the moment is the South China Sea conflict, which involves China and its Southeast Asian neighbours. The conflict can seem very complex at first glance, but this is largely because the average individual is not invested in the histories of these countries – this is a conflict that goes back not a few years or decades, but far more back in the annals of history. To get a general idea of what is going, below is a small explanation.
To begin with the South China Sea is a marginal region of the Pacific Sea, located in the territorial waters between China (to the north), Taiwan (to the northwest), Vietnam (to the west), Philippines (to the east) and Malaysia (to the south). The sea is also known by the name of West Philippine Sea, and as this is the commonly accepted name in the Philippines, the conflict has certainly escalated the China US trade relations. Of course, naming aside, it should be noted that no country at present has had its claims recognized by the United Nations – the view of this international body is that lands submerged at high tides cannot be claimed by any specific country, regardless of whether they have been artificially altered or otherwise; to find a solution for the conflict, the United Nations strongly believes it should mediate the conflict.
The interest China has shown in this particular region is not simply because of its proximity to the country nor only because of the historical attachments does (Chinese history describe that the dynasties of Xia and Han had laid claims to these territorial waters). The South China Sea has revealed itself as a massive reserve of oil and natural gas, and given the fact that China imports a large chunk of its energy reserves, the acquisition of these would give the country unprecedented stability. Not to add, the South China Sea is a major trade route, and one that China makes use to import its oil necessities. A definite claim to the sea would also give it the ability to control the trade in the region, and possibly disrupt that of its neighbours to its advantage.
The conflict in this region has also done much to worsen the relations not only between the aforementioned neighbours, but also that of the China United States relations. The reason is that, were the South China Sea completely claimed by China, US military presence in the area would definitely be removed. Seeing as how the US and China are currently vying for control (the US to maintain its status as superpower, and China to attain it and topple the US), a loss in military influence in the Southeast Asian region for the US would be a significant blow.
Given the status of each country and the stakes they have in participating in the conflict, it is almost certain that the dispute in the South China Sea is likely to escalate. As with other international disputes involving major powers, the solutions are not easy to find nor to reach, but it is safe to say that both countries are trying to move with caution at the very least.