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2012 World News: China

Geopolitical Maritime Dispute Shares Headlines with Change of Leadership

by Beth Rowen

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping

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Regional tension over claims to islands and resources in the South China Sea flared throughout 2012. For centuries, China has declared sovereignty over the sea and many of its islands, including the Paracel and Spratly islands, which are rich in oil and gas reserves and fish. However, Vietnam has also laid claim to these islands, and the Philippines say the Spratly Islands are within their territorial claims. While the issue has been festering for decades, China has taken a tougher stance in 2012, warning other nations to refrain from oil and gas exploration and placing naval vessels in the South China Sea. At the same time, Vietnam and the Philippines have been more aggressively dispatching ships—both military and civilian—to the sea. There was little hope that the nations could solve the problem diplomatically, with China saying it would only negotiate bilaterally and both Vietnam and the Philippines insisting that the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) mediate the dispute.

The Transfer of Power Begins

On Nov. 8, the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress convened in Beijing, beginning its leadership transition. Having ruled China since 1949, the party faced its biggest transfer of power in years. It was only the second time the party prepared to transfer power from one leader to another without violence or protest.

The 18th Congress began with the expectation that changes were coming in every area of the Chinese Communist Party. For example, seven out of nine members of the party's elite Standing Committee were scheduled to retire. The biggest change would obviously be Vice President Xi Jinping taking over as president. Xi was expected to take over in March 2013, although it remained unclear when he would take control of the military. The son of a revolutionary leader, Xi faced the daunting task of maintaining economic growth and increasing China's role as a global power.

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