A Quick Look: South China Sea Disputes


The South China Sea is a critically important trade route of the world, with an estimated $5-trillion worth of goods passing through yearly, which amounts to about 30% of global maritime trade. In addition to that, there are vast oil and natural gas reserves under the sea, and it is the site of lucrative fishing grounds, providing the main source of animal protein for the densely populated southeast Asia.

For all of its resources and strategic value, the South China Sea is highly contentious. Several sovereign states all have varying claims over different sectors of the waterway and the islands therein, whereas non-claimant states advocate for the South China Sea to remain international waters.

These maritime and territorial disputes are complex and sprawling in their nature. To better grasp the greater picture of the situation, we’ve broken it down into a few sections.

The Claimants

The prime areas of contention in the South China Sea include the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, and various boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin. Each claimant nation wants something specific, and they all have their individual justifications for what they want. The main players in the territorial disputes have been China, Taiwan, Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.


Image 1. South China Sea Claims

China depicts its claims to the South China Sea using the map of the nine-dash line, a vague demarcation line that was inspired by a December 1947 then-Republic of China (1912-1949) map with eleven segments. After the Communist Party of China formed the PRC, the claim was amended to the “nine-dash line” that we know today. The U-shape of it can be observed in Image 1 above.

Taiwan (ROC) also uses the 1947 map it as a basis for their own claim to the contested waters, because it was published before the PRC was established. Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba Island, is the largest isle of the Spratly group and it remains steadfastly in Taiwan’s control. As one of the world’s biggest seafood exporters, Taiwan’s interests in the region are connected to fishing and oil.

Vietnam’s claim over the Paracel and Spratly islands was first established in a White Paper issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1974, with historical evidence as a basis for the claims. It has been a vocal opponent of China’s historical claim over the South China Sea, asserting that China had never claimed sovereignty over the islands before the 1940s, whereas Vietnam had actively ruled over both the Paracel and the Spratly Islands since the 17th Century.

However, tensions between China and Vietnam have been de-escalating ahead of agreements to resolve their disputes. In April 2018, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave an announcement that China and Vietnam are moving toward a settlement agreement on the status of their claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has historically cited its geographical proximity to the Spratly Islands as the main basis of its claim to the Scarborough Shoal, however its President Rodrigo Duterte has avoided aggressive rhetoric on the issue, saying that he “will not impose anything on China.”

This came after the July 2016 international arbitration that ruled China could not legally claim most of the South China Sea – including a rebuke of the nation’s manmade islands. Although China is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, it refused to accept the court’s authority on this case.

Malaysia has claimed seven islands in the Spratly group, of which two are also claimed by Vietnam and one by the Philippines. Thus, it has occupied the remaining four and constructed mini-naval stations to reinforce its claim.

Brunei by contrast is sometimes referred to as a “silent claimant” of the South China Sea, however it first asserted rights shortly after gaining independence from Britain in 1984. Its principal interests revolve around the development of offshore oil and natural gas fields – both within its EEZ and outside of its territorial waters. Its claim is on Louisa Reef, which is on its continental shelf, however the Louisa Reef is also part of the Spratly islands, a feature claimed by both China and Vietnam.

Recently, Indonesia ramped up the territorial disputes by renaming the northernmost waters of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea to the North Natuna Sea, despite China’s claims to the area.  Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, suggested that the renaming of the waterway helped to make it “sound more Indonesian.” It has increasingly conducted aggressive posturing in the area, including a military buildup on nearby Natuna Islands and deployment of naval warships.

For decades, Indonesia’s official policy has maintained that it is not party to any territorial disputes with China on the South China Sea, yet in 2016, the two countries had three maritime skirmishes, including warning shots and a situation where Indonesian warships seized a Chinese fishing boat and its crew.

China’s Manmade Islands

In recent years, China has been building various ports, runways, and radar facilities on manmade islands throughout the South China Sea. CSIS Satellite images from 2016 depict large anti-aircraft guns and weapons systems as well.

These man-made islands have been constructed by dredging sand on to reefs in an effort to boost China’s claim to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China had previously committed to not militarizing the islands, however the CSIS imagery suggests otherwise. Nonetheless, the PRC government maintains that the islands are for maritime safety and civilian purposes.

The Situation at Present

On April 11th, 2018, the Chinese navy began a 3-day drill near its main submarine base in what analysts described as a message to other nations in the area that it was capable of defending its territorial and maritime interests. This display came right as an American strike group, led by the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, conducted its own exercises in the South China Sea. The United States maintains that the South China Sea is international water, and therefore the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea should determine sovereignty in the area.

These exercises additionally overlapped with a week-long series of live-fire drills involving the aircraft carrier Liaoning, near the venue for the BOAO Forum for Asia. On the sidelines of the forum, senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said that all the surrounding countries were concerned by the military exercises in the region. This area is significant because it has several underwater channels and straits that could allow China’s submarine fleet to break through the United States’ first and second island chain blockades. Although the location for these specific demonstrations was in a less sensitive area than the South China Sea, it nonetheless served as a means for China to illustrate its military might to the other claimants involved in the disputes.

PRC President Xi Jinping presided over the Chinese navy’s largest military display on April 12th, 2018. The state broadcaster, China Central Television, showed footage of Xi boarding the destroyer Changsha before sailing to an unspecified location in the South China Sea to watch the procession. China’s armed forces are in the middle of a modernization program, and the subsequent military buildup has seemingly unnerved its neighbors, particularly due to the increasing assertiveness on the territorial disputes of the South China Sea.

China intended on holding live-fire military drills in the Taiwan Straits on April 18th, however, it was reported that the drill scaled down in an effort to reduce tensions. The Taiwanese military similarly cancelled a scheduled cannon drill.

The probability of South China Sea disputes leading to an outbreak of hostilities is unlikely, however since China has continued to pursue its territorial and maritime claims, the potential for escalating small-scale skirmishes cannot be ruled out. Furthermore, any escalations in the trade corridor may have an impact on the global economy, particularly if sanctions become involved.

This article was written by Kristina Weber of Centry Ltd. For more content like this, follow @CentryLTD on Twitter!

Hidden Sanctions Risk: North Korean ties to Africa


Dozens of sculptures, monuments, and buildings in countries such as Senegal, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Botswana were built by Mansudae Overseas Projects, which is a construction company based out of Pyongyang in North Korea. 

Most of these projects are war memorials or other dedications to the respective nations’ struggles for independence. To give perspective, the following is just a few examples of some of the monuments that were built by Mansudae.

  • Senegal: African Renaissance Monument
    • The African Renaissance Monument is a nearly 50-meter tall bronze statue overlooking the Atlantic. It was dedicated on April 4th, 2010, which is Senegal’s “National Day” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from France.
  • Namibia: Heroes’ Acre
    • The Heroes’ Acre was opened on August 26th, 2002 in the hills south of Windhoek as a token of honor to those who “…made great and meaningful contributions to the liberation of the Land of the Brave…” (Source)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Laurent Kabila
    • This statue commemorating Laurent Kabila was reportedly built by Mansudae. Kabila was a Marxist revolutionary who served as the third President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko.
  • Zimbabwe: Joshua Nkomo statue
  • Zimbabwe: National Heroes Acre
    • The Heroes’ Acre in Zimbabwe commemorates the fallen veterans of Zimbabwe’s war for independence. Its design closely mirrors that of the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery just outside Pyongyang, North Korea.
  • Mozambique: Samora Moises Machel
    • A statue of Mozambique’s first president was constructed in 2011 in Maputo, Mozambique. Samora Machel is remembered as a military commander, politician, and revolutionary in the tradition of Marxism-Leninism.
  • Botswana: Three Dikgosi Monument
    • AKA The Three Chiefs, this bronze-cast monument was built in 2005 and features the three leaders (Khama III, Sebele I, & Bathoen I) who traveled to Great Britain in 1895 to ask Joseph Chamberlain and Queen Victoria to separate the Bechuanaland Protectorate from Cecile Rhodes’ British South Africa Company and Southern Rhodesia.

Specifically, the city of Windhoek in Namibia has been referred to as an ‘unlikely testament’ to North Korean industry. Many architectural staples of the city, such as the presidential palace, the national history museum, and the defense headquarters, were built by North Korea, for profit.

Two years ago, the United Nations stated that Namibia had violated U.N. sanctions through its commerial relationship to North Korea. The Treasury Department had sanctioned Mansudae Overseas Projects, as well as the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), which has come to be known as North Korea’s primary arms dealer. Namibia has since pledged to cut commercial ties to the DPRK, although they did state that they would retain warm diplomatic relations with the regime.

U.N. officials have conducted an investigation into at least seven African countries for sanctions violations concerning North Korea. These countries were also supposed to end their economic and military relationships with North Korea following the sanctions, however the U.N. panel of experts noted that what reporting had occurred was largely poor in quality or otherwise unclear, with a high number of States not reporting altogether.

The connection between Namibia and North Korea stands as but one example among many similar stories. It began in the 1960s, when several African countries started the struggle for independence from colonialism. During this vulnerable time period, North Korea invested time and money in these revolutions, where the political ties eventually grew into commercial relationships.

Now, this has become particularly important as sanctions have mounted against the regime. North Korea has been able to use their commercial ties to African nations like Namibia as financial lifelines– evidence by building infrastructure, and selling weapons and other equipment.

With these concerns in mind, it should be noted that it is important for businesses conducting operations in Africa to ensure that potential commercial partners will not put them at risk for violating sanctions. This risk may be mitigated through due diligence and watch-list screening.

If you or your organization have any questions or thoughts on this, please feel free to reach out to us at Centry. We can help!

Centry Blog: 2017 in Review


As of this month, Centry Blog has been in production for one year!

Over this period of time, we have published weekly entries on a variety of subjects ranging from Cyber Security, informational security, data breaches, social media, phishing, history, to geopolitics and more.

In honor of that, we’ve put together a list of some of our most-read articles written over the course of 2017:


Website Creation. These were the earliest days of setting up Centry Blog and refining its look before publishing content for our readers.


The Value of Secure Logistics Supply Chains 

What is the cost of unsecured supply chains? Is it a price your organization is willing to pay? Learn more about common ways supply chain security can be compromised, and how to address the issue.


Spies in History: The Story of Elizabeth Bentley

Elizabeth Bentley was a Soviet spy in the United States between 1935-1945, until she famously defected from the USSR and gave testimony before the House Committee, wherein she named more than eighty associates in her network– some of whom held positions in the government of the United States. Her story was but one in the mounting tensions after World War II that began to pave the path to the Cold War, but her impact certainly was remarkable.


When Due Diligence Fails

When does mediocre effort become detrimental? In due diligence, there are three certain ways: insufficient information, lack of verification, and disregarding red flags. Let this article be a lesson in what not to do, and learn from the mistakes of real world examples.


Spies in History: Virginia Hall, The Most Dangerous Allied Agent in France

Another installment in the Spies in History series, this article reviewed the story of Virginia Hall, a little known hero of World War II. Among other achievements, Virginia Hall was responsible for helping to organize, fund, supply and arm the French resistance during Nazi occupation.


Hook, Line, and Sinker: Phishing on Social Media

Phishing attempts have grown to be tailored around their individual social media platforms. This article illustrates these attempts across various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, and gives tips on how to identify scams.


A Quick Guide to Anti-Corruption and Bribery

Bribery and corruption are significant issues that entrepreneurs and businesses may encounter worldwide. Violators of anticorruption laws and regulations may face the possibility of financial sanctions, crippling fines, and massive reputational damage. When companies are caught in corruption or bribery, it is usually not a quiet settlement, rather their story becomes a cautionary tale for all others…


Are Your Phones Protected?

In the Cyber era, companies have been investing heavily into their data infrastructure, protecting information vaults, CRM databases and critical production management systems. But when is the last time someone took a look at the customer service center IP phone server? How about the phone bills accumulated by the desktop phones of the call center or personal office phones? Those same phones might be still on your desk, but you have not used them in months or even years.


When VPNs Go Wrong

VPNs have become widespread over the past few years as their users have expanded from businesses utilizing them for information security to individuals seeking out ways to bolster their privacy or obscure their location. The issue that arises from growing individual use is that there are more opportunities to be scammed, and some people with VPNs for personal use may not be able to distinguish between a reputable service and a charismatic, albeit malicious scam. Read on for some red flags to look out for when considering a VPN service!


Travel Risk Management

Most of the time, trips carry on as expected with maybe a small hiccup in conveniences here or there. But what happens when things go really wrong? Any number of situations could arise with permanent consequences – do you or your organization have a plan for this? This article answers some of those questions by outlining key risks to consider before traveling.


Unraveling the Equifax Data Breach

The Equifax Data Breach dominated headlines for weeks after news of it first came out. This article examines how it happened, what went wrong in the aftermath, and what people affected by it can do.


When is ‘State-Owned’ a Red Flag?

One of the things that we screen for in our risk assessments is the connection of the subject to a politically exposed entity. This basically refers to any individual or company that has connections to the government of a country or other public office. For someone unfamiliar with screening processes and typical red flags, you might ask – when does political exposure or state ownership become a red flag?




D-Day and the United States: History as a Tool for Cultural Understanding

In order to have a modern understanding of the nations in this world, it is important to consider how they remember their history, as these recollections are often used as a lesson, an honor, or a cultural reinforcement.

In his article about the importance of remembering the past, William Cronon expressed that “… if the past is the place from which we have come, then memory and history are the tools we use for recollecting that place so we can know who and where we are.” This sentiment is also true of nationhood and the representation of the values that form a collective identity. In the context of the United States, there are only a handful of events in history outside of the War for Independence itself that are as uniquely defining of American culture and ideals as the Normandy Landings of June 6, 1944.

The example of struggle and sacrifice in the D-Day operation invited a memory about: a) the triumph of the tenacity of freedom against tyranny, and b) the importance of success found in perseverance. These two themes are very common in American ideology and literature, and this narrative is evident in public memory of D-Day over the course of the twentieth century to the present.

The attribution of specific meanings and grand themes to D-day illustrated how the public and the community of the nation, in the words of Michael Dolski, “…draw of the past to validate the present and chart a course for the future…” Because D-Day was such a huge event, it was more or less guaranteed to be significant in public remembrance, as it was a heavily televised day with several photographers and filmmakers following the troops ashore. It is clear that most of those involved in D-day were aware that they were living history. This is especially significant because the word of veterans became gospel of what had occurred on that day. Historian Christopher Clausen suggests that no matter how hard academics push their own studies, the narrative given by the eye witness will always trump the scholarly article because they add a level of humanity to something that would otherwise be so foreign and so horrible that it would be completely un-relatable to most people. Legends and popular narratives are born from eye witness stories and the need for people to weave an event into a powerful story to be able to cope with the trauma of what happened. This is clear on D-Day, which experienced extremely high casualty rates and intense combat that, in some cases, lasted for hours.

By remembering D-day as a highly important moment to preserve liberty, soldiers were able to justify the incredible loss and chaos to themselves. Therefore, the remembrance of D-day as a narrative of the triumph of liberators became a way for Americans to reinforce their cultural image. Since it was so widespread and influenced so many people, many countries remember D-Day differently. Where it is a tale of the triumph of liberty for America, it is a lesson about the value of peace to Britain, and different yet still to Germany.

Collective memory is a powerful tool for uniting people who might otherwise have nothing in common or no interest in each other. Historian David Thelen suggests that collective memory allows individuals to validate their own experiences and feelings about it by measuring it up to the expressions of the public. It enables them to reinterpret their memories and decide which experiences are worth remembering and which ought to be forgotten.  This is especially evident in the representation of D-Day in the media, where the director’s vision of an event gets passed along to the audience and is consumed easily and widely by many people who may not have an inclination to get a second opinion on the media’s interpretation. William Cronon suggests that American common identity is inexorably linked to its famous moments in history; we see a part of ourselves in George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and the soldiers who fought to preserve freedom on D-Day.

Operation Overlord – the codename for the Battle of Normandy – was an incredibly complicated plan that included intricate naval and aerial support plans, bombardment, and airborne assaults in addition to the mass amphibious assault that took place on the Normandy shores. At this point, amphibious assault was not exactly a normal method of accomplishing invasions, so that facet of it was notable in and of itself. By 1944, many soldiers both on Allied and Axis sides were experienced combatants who were likely completely exhausted from their time in the war, or new conscripts ready to prove their glory. Although D-Day was only the initial stage of the operation as a whole, it still represented an extreme challenge because of the weather, the question of supplies, and its amphibious nature. Because Overlord was such a far-reaching plan, Allied forces had to demonstrate significant cooperation and intricate planning in relative secrecy to successfully launch an operation that required a ‘tremendous level of ingenuity’, as the Historian Michael Dolski suggests.

On top of that weight, it was understood by everyone going into D-day that the success of the operation as a whole depended entirely on this one day. Each of the landing beaches were put into the responsibility of the Allied powers respectively, with Utah Beach and Omaha Beach under the jurisdiction of the United States. American soldiers on Omaha Beach were the ‘first wave’ of the assault and suffered a huge barrage of attack from a replenished German deployment. It acquired the nickname ‘Bloody Omaha’ because it had the highest number of casualties, most of whom arrived in the 1st company from Bedford, VA. Since it was such a difficult challenge, it is easy to see how the foundation for a story about heroism and triumph against all odds could take shape. If we consider this in the context that several American stories and myths employ a narrative about success found in determination, perseverance, and hard work, it is clear how D-Day and its collective remembrance has become such a defining moment in American society.

The construction of D-day’s remembrance in public memory began on D-day itself when President Roosevelt issued a prayer for the success of the operation over the radio in America, and Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a speech to the soldiers. These two influential voices laid the framework on top of the foundation to establish the narrative of D-Day that we know today. In his prayer for the soldiers, Roosevelt calls upon God to bless the American soldiers who “…have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity …. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again …” (FDR) These words alone are clear enough in their representation of the values of American society. The cause moved from one to defeat tyranny to preserve the sanctity of humanity as a whole. In another part of the speech, Roosevelt begged God to allow Americans as a whole to illustrate renewed faith to Him by means of great sacrifice. The divine focus of this speech, coupled with the emphasis on tenacity and sacrifice are consistent with most grand American stories. Even the revolution is remembered with these tenets in mind.

This narrative is consistent with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s speech, which reinforced the divine role of the soldiers as it described the moments preceding D-Day as the moments prior to embarking “upon the Great Crusade.” Dwight D. Eisenhower deviated a little from Roosevelt’s prayer by attributing nobility and value to the Allied cooperation necessary to make this feat possible. However, that is more likely due to the different audiences than actual intent to forge a story. Where Roosevelt spoke to the American public, Eisenhower spoke to and of an amalgam of troops made up of several Allied powers.

Years later, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandson, David, wrote on the memory of his grandfather. In his article, David Eisenhower emphasizes that his grandfather was just an ordinary American man from the Midwest with a family, who reached success simply through working hard. He suggests that his grandfather knew that the war was a defining period in his life, and that future generations would look back carefully on a time where “civilization itself” hung precariously in the balance. David Eisenhower’s own memory of the event reflects the public construction; the significance of the day was attached to the preservation of democracy, freedom, and human values that were championed by the Allies. He suggests that it is remembered as an impressive feat that no other belligerent in World War II could have achieved, and for twentieth century America, it was a decisive moment of renewal and affirmation of everything that people call positive about the United States, such as civil rights, technology, moon landings, and what not. In short, it made Americans proud to be Americans.

Today, June 6 serves as a reminder of the ability of world powers to cooperate efficiently toward a singular goal, and an opportunity to reflect on the positive values of American ideology. 2014 was the seventieth anniversary of D-Day and it is remembered still with honor for the tremendous sacrifice to a noble cause. Maia de la Baume’s article “On the 70th Anniversary, the Memories of D-Day Are Replayed at Normandy” found in the New York Times describes new effort put forward by the public to reenact the landings and how it impacts veterans. The annual commemoration in 2014 was significant because it included several world leaders meeting while tensions over Russian actions in Ukraine have been deteriorating those relationships. Mr. Obama called the invasion “the most powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom” which illustrates the remaining presence and power of D-Day to affirm Western ideals, especially in times of high tension and disturbance in the realm of international relations.

This article was written by Kristina Weber, Content Supervisor of Centry Ltd.


  • De La Baume, Maia and Alissa J. Rubin. “On 70th Anniversary, the Memories of D-Day Are Replayed at Normandy” June 6, 2014. New York Times.