The dispute over a piece of submerged coral has flared up
James Shoal is a submerged coral reef in the southern portion of the South China Sea approximately 50 nautical miles off the coast of the island of Borneo. With an average depth beneath the water of over 50 feet, the shoal may not be used by any nation to assert a claim of a territorial sea. But, since the closest point of land is part of the State of Sarawak in Malaysia and the shoal is less than 200 nautical miles from that land, James Shoal clearly lies within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Malaysia. This situation has not prevented the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) from asserting claims over the shoal. Their respective claims are the southern-most of the various claims that they make over various portions of the South China Sea. The PRC has dispatched several naval patrols to waters over or near the James Shoal. On 20 April 2010, a PRC marine surveillance ship placed a sovereignty stele in waters of the shoal, somewhat similar to the flag that a Russian submersible placed on the seafloor at the North Pole. In late January 2014, three Chinese warships patrolled waters around James Shoal while the naval personnel on board swore to safeguard the Chinese claims of sovereignty and the nation’s maritime interests. Malaysia continues to assert its claim, but refuses to say whether it has submitted a diplomatic protest regarding the recent PRC actions. Instead, Malaysia announced that it is establishing a military base in Sarawak on the coast closest to James Shoal. The new base will have amphibious capability and will be manned by marines. Malaysia is also seeking more capable naval vessels from the United States and various European nations. The territorial dispute at James Shoal, which had been quiet for so long, has become heated recently.