In 2010, at a regional conference in Hanoi, former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that "The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea".[41] The United States has also called for unfettered access to the area that China claims as its own, and accused Beijing of adopting an increasingly aggressive stance on the high seas.[41]

This part makes it sound like that none of the territorial claims are accepted by the United States, which is confusing, because you would think that the U.S. accepts some of its claims since Taiwan makes the exact same territorial claims as China. I am wondering if there's a map or some kind of data, that shows which claims are undisputed by the United States. It can be a percentage or a map or a description.

What parts of the South China Sea does the U.S. recognize as belonging to China?


2 Answers 2


I don't believe the US draws its own maps for the area, as it has no claim to any of the area. There are multiple territorial disputes in the area.

The US Department of State disputes specific claims by China.

The PRC cannot lawfully assert a maritime claim – including any Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims derived from Scarborough Reef and the Spratly Islands – vis-a-vis the Philippines in areas that the Tribunal found to be in the Philippines’ EEZ or on its continental shelf. Beijing’s harassment of Philippine fisheries and offshore energy development within those areas is unlawful, as are any unilateral PRC actions to exploit those resources. In line with the Tribunal’s legally binding decision, the PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal, both of which fall fully under the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction, nor does Beijing have any territorial or maritime claims generated from these features.

As Beijing has failed to put forth a lawful, coherent maritime claim in the South China Sea, the United States rejects any PRC claim to waters beyond a 12-nautical mile territorial sea derived from islands it claims in the Spratly Islands (without prejudice to other states’ sovereignty claims over such islands). As such, the United States rejects any PRC maritime claim in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), waters in Brunei’s EEZ, and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia). Any PRC action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters – or to carry out such activities unilaterally – is unlawful.

The PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to (or derived from) James Shoal, an entirely submerged feature only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia and some 1,000 nautical miles from China’s coast. James Shoal is often cited in PRC propaganda as the “southernmost territory of China.” International law is clear: An underwater feature like James Shoal cannot be claimed by any state and is incapable of generating maritime zones. James Shoal (roughly 20 meters below the surface) is not and never was PRC territory, nor can Beijing assert any lawful maritime rights from it.

South China Sea Map

Source of map


United States Department of State, "Limits in the Seas" (January 2022):

The United States has repeatedly reaffirmed that it takes no position as to which country has sovereignty over the islands of the South China Sea, which is not a matter governed by the law of the sea. ...

while taking no position on the PRC’s sovereignty claims to particular islands in the South China Sea, the United States has rejected assertions of sovereignty based on features that do not meet the definition of an island or are not within the lawful limits of the territorial sea.

Example to illustrate above paragraph:

China's unlawful claim:

enter image description here

What would be lawful (assuming China did have sovereignty over the labeled islands):

enter image description here

  • It seems like the US does draw its own maps of the area, nice find.
    – quarague
    Jul 10, 2023 at 8:28

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