China's Maritime Territorial Claims: Implications for U.S. Interests [November 12, 2001] [open pdf - 1MB]
"The collision on April 1, 2001, of a Chinese jet fighter with a U.S. navy reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea drew unusual public attention to the ocean areas south and east of the People's Republic of China (PRC): the South China Sea and the East China Sea. These relatively shallow, resource-rich waters are of growing economic and strategic importance, yet they often remain invisible in the American policy process. The United States, along with most of the international community, regards these as international waters. According to one estimate, more than half of the world's sea-going commercial shipments pass through this area each year, including the bulk of inter-Asian trade and most of Japan's annual oil imports. Consequently, a primary U.S. economic and strategic objective in the region has been the maintenance of freedom-of-navigation through these waters. This report provides an overview of which islands and reefs are in dispute and who claims them; background on Chinese assertions and justifications about the extent of Chinese sovereignty in these waters; the economic and strategic significance of the relevant sea lines of communication, both for Asia and for U.S. interests; an analysis of PRC military activity and interests in the region, as well as an overview of confrontations in the area; and an analysis of international legal interpretations of these issues. Finally, the report discusses the implications of competing South/East China Sea claims for U.S. economic and strategic interests, and the implications that U.S. treaty obligations to claimant states have for resolution of these claims."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31183