Explained by Graphics: Tension in the South China Sea
Claims on the South China Sea, the recent ruling, and why China is ignoring it
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
Tension in the South China Sea reached a potential inflection point this week.
Days ago, an international tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, dismissing China’s sweeping territorial claims to the hotly contested waters in the South China Sea.
Since then, it has become clear that China plans to ignore the ruling, while Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin has threatened to declare an air defense identification zone over the waters to help protect the country’s interests.
But how did we get to this point? How was this ruling determined, and what does it mean moving forwards?
Why the South China Sea matters
The South China Sea is home to 250 small islands, shoals, reefs, sandbars, and other tiny landmasses.
The South China Sea is the second most used sea lane in the world, and home to:
- $5 trillion of annual trade
- 11 billion barrels of oil
- 266 trillion cubic ft of natural gas
Six countries claim parts of the South China Sea as their own: China, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.
However, China has the boldest claim, insisting that over 80% of the sea is their territory based on historical maps.
Island or Rock?
The ruling in the Philippines vs. China hearing is based on the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force in 1994. All countries disputing claims in the South China Sea are signatories.
UNCLOS defines three types of landmasses, and whether something is a “rock” or an “island” has huge implications for territorial claims.
- Low-tide elevation: A landmass above water only at low tide.
- Rock: A landmass permanently above water, but unable to sustain human habitation or economic life on its own.
- Island: A landmass permanently above water that can sustain human habitation and economic life on its own.
Rocks get some territorial benefits, but islands get 200 nautical miles (370 km) of special economic rights around them in each direction.
- Low-tide elevation: Not entitled to any separate maritime zone.
- Rock: Entitled to territorial sea and contiguous zone. Each are up to 12 nautical miles (22 km) from base line.
- Island: Entitled to territorial sea and contiguous zone, but also entitled to an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km), and continental shelf rights.
The economic zone confers rights for fishing, drilling, energy production, and other economic activities.
The tribunal ruled that Scarborough Shoal, along with areas occupied by China in the Spratly Islands do not count as “islands”, and therefore do not justify 200 nautical mile (370 km) economic zones around them.
China has rejected the ruling calling it “ill-founded”. Taiwan, which has administered Taiping Island since 1956, also rejected the ruling.
China has argued that the tribunal has no legitimate jurisdiction on this issue since it concerns “sovereignty” – which the text of the UNCLOS explicitly prohibits tribunals from addressing.
What are the consequences?
If China continues to ignore the ruling, likely there will be a “hit” to China’s reputation, but that’s it.
Going back in history, there is a long list of situations where superpowers have ignored international rulings. It is also worth noting that China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and has veto power.
Tension will continue to increase in the South China Sea, creating a situation that could boil over at any time.
Mapped: The World’s Nuclear Reactor Landscape
Which countries are turning to nuclear energy, and which are turning away? Mapping and breaking down the world’s nuclear reactor landscape.
The World’s Changing Nuclear Reactor Landscape
View a more detailed version of the above map by clicking here
Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl, many nations reiterated their intent to wean off the energy source.
However, this sentiment is anything but universal—in many other regions of the world, nuclear power is still ramping up, and it’s expected to be a key energy source for decades to come.
Using data from the Power Reactor Information System, maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the map above gives a comprehensive look at where nuclear reactors are subsiding, and where future capacity will reside.
Increasing Global Nuclear Use
Despite a dip in total capacity and active reactors last year, nuclear power still generated around 10% of the world’s electricity in 2019.
Part of the increased capacity came as Japan restarted some plants and European countries looked to replace aging reactors. But most of the growth is driven by new reactors coming online in Asia and the Middle East.
China is soon to have more than 50 nuclear reactors, while India is set to become a top-ten producer once construction on new reactors is complete.
Decreasing Use in Western Europe and North America
The slight downtrend from 450 operating reactors in 2018 to 443 in 2019 was the result of continued shutdowns in Europe and North America. Home to the majority of the world’s reactors, the two continents also have the oldest reactors, with many being retired.
At the same time, European countries are leading the charge in reducing dependency on the energy source. Germany has pledged to close all nuclear plants by 2022, and Italy has already become the first country to completely shut down their plants.
Despite leading in shutdowns, Europe still emerges as the most nuclear-reliant region for a majority of electricity production and consumption.
In addition, some countries are starting to reassess nuclear energy as a means of fighting climate change. Reactors don’t produce greenhouse gases during operation, and are more efficient (and safer) than wind and solar per unit of electricity.
Facing steep emission reduction requirements, a variety of countries are looking to expand nuclear capacity or to begin planning for their first reactors.
A New Generation of Nuclear Reactors?
For those parties interested in the benefits of nuclear power, past accidents have also led towards a push for innovation in the field. That includes studies of miniature nuclear reactors that are easier to manage, as well as full-size reactors with robust redundancy measures that won’t physically melt down.
Additionally, some reactors are being designed with the intention of utilizing accumulated nuclear waste—a byproduct of nuclear energy and weapon production that often had to be stored indefinitely—as a fuel source.
With some regions aiming to reduce reliance on nuclear power, and others starting to embrace it, the landscape is certain to change.
How Much Do Countries Spend on Healthcare Compared to the Military?
Every year, governments spend trillions on healthcare and defense. But how much is spent per person, and how does this compare by country?
Healthcare vs. Military Spending, by Country
Keeping citizens both healthy and secure are key priorities for many national governments around the world—but ultimately, decisions must be made on how tax dollars are spent to accomplish these objectives, and funding must fall into one bucket or another.
This infographic from PixlParade examines how much 46 different countries put towards healthcare and military spending in 2018, per capita.
Head to Head: Healthcare versus Military
Data for government and compulsory healthcare spending comes from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Note that these figures do not include spending through private insurance or out-of-pocket expenses.
Meanwhile, the data for military spending comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
|Country||Health spending (Per capita, 2018 US$)||Military spending (Per capita, 2018 US$)|
|Source: OECD||Source: SIPRI|
Note: There are minor discrepancies in comparing table data to original sources due to recent estimate updates. Figures for Brazil, South Africa, China, Indonesia, and India come from the World Bank (2017).
The Top 10 Healthcare Spenders
The U.S. leads the world in government healthcare spending at $9,008 per capita – over 1.5 times that of Norway, the next-highest country examined.
|Country||Per capita health spending||% of GDP||% of health spending|
While per-capita government spending on healthcare in the U.S. is the highest in the world, this has not necessarily brought about better outcomes (such as longer life expectancy) compared to other developed nations.
It’s also worth mentioning that the above figures do not cover all healthcare costs incurred by citizens, as they do not account for private insurance spending or out-of-pocket expenses. According to OECD data, these additional costs tend to be the highest in places like Switzerland and the United States.
The Top 10 Military Spenders
Israel has the highest rate of military spending per capita, and has the distinction of being the only country on this list to invest more in defense than in healthcare.
|Country||Per capita military spending||% of GDP||Total expenditure, US$M|
Although the United States comes in second place here as well, in absolute terms, the U.S. puts more money into military expenditures than many other countries combined, at almost $700 billion per year.
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