Taiwan: Chronicle of a Crisis Postponed

I The South China Sea, fabled and contested, stretches from the Taiwan Strait south to the Java Sea and the Singapore Strait, where the Horsburgh lighthouse, an active relic of Asia’s violent encounter with Europe, now keeps watch over the world’s most crucial chokepoint. North of Singapore, the sea is bounded to the east by the island of Borneo, to the west by the Malay peninsula. As each of these land formations slopes away, the sea opens to a wide expanse. Wide, but frequently shallow, and dotted with cays, atolls, reefs, sand bars, and small island formations. For the vast commercial ships that transit this shipping lane, they must hew closely to well-charted but narrow routes where the sea lane is deep enough to accommodate their giant hulls. If you viewed the South China Sea simultaneously through satellite, radar, and sonar images, you would see a sea clogged with obstacles. There are the myriad islands and formations and shallows that constrain commercial passage. Across the remaining surface, every major shipping company in the world transits these waters, sailing mega-container ships, oil and natural gas tankers, grain ships and bulk carriers hauling copper, steel, and other industrial materials, and the “roll-on, roll-off” (or “ro-ro”) ships that move the world’s supply of cars and trucks from manufacturer to market. Several nations sail fishing fleets here, including two of the world’s largest, from China and Taiwan; according to the Ocean Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, fully half of the world’s fishing fleet spends some of the year trailing in these waters. Six countries have made sovereign claims here and are seeking to profit from the economic rights that follow (under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea), namely China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the

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