But that is what China is actively doing in the ocean south of the mainland: the South China Sea. Bit by bit, it is establishing hegemony over this most important sea where the littoral states -- China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam -- have territorial claims.
The importance of the South China Sea is hard to overestimate. Some of the most vital international sea lanes traverse it; it is one of the great fishing areas; and the ocean bed, near land, has large reserves of oil and gas. No wonder everyone wants a piece of it -- and China wants all of it.
Historically China has laid claim to a majority of the sea and adheres to a map or line -- known as the nine-dash map, the U-shape line or the nine-dotted line -- that cedes most of the ocean area and all of the island land to it. The nine-dash map is a provocation at best and a blueprint for annexation at worst.
The mechanism for China's filching of one of the great seas of the world is control of the three island archipelagos, the Paracel, Spratly and Pratas islands, and several other smaller outcroppings, as well as the seamounts, called the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal. Between them, they consist of about 250 small islands, atolls, keys, shoals, sandbars and reefs. Very few of these are habitable or have indigenous people. Some are permanently submerged, and many are only exposed at low tide.
Yet if China can claim title to them, it can use them to extend its hegemony into the area around them. First, it can claim the standard 12 miles of territorial waters around each land mass and it also can claim an economic zone of influence of 200 miles from the most dubious "island." Ergo, China can connect the dots and grab a large chunk of the South China Sea.'