Vietnam and Malaysia have led regional military buildups and increased arms trade with countries like Russia and India, while the Philippines doubled its defense budget in 2011 and pledged five-year joint military exercises with the United States. Ships are commonly involved in naval disputes, as exhibited in the Scarborough Shoal incident in April when the Philippines said its largest warship—acquired from the United States—had a standoff with Chinese surveillance vessels after the ship attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen but was blocked by the surveillance craft.
Territorial spats over the waters and islands of the South China Sea have roiled relations between China and countries like Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei in recent years, and tensions continue to escalate in the wake of U. President Barack Obama’s announced “pivot” of focus to the region.The "nine-dash line" is a controversial demarcation line used by China for its claim to territories and waters in the South China Sea, most notably over the Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel and Spratly Islands—the two most important disputed island groups.The line, which is contested by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam, encompasses virtually the entire South China Sea region and caused immediate controversy when China submitted a map to the UN in 2009 that included the demarcation.Competitive tensions escalated when India’s state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp announced it had partnered with Petro Vietnam for developing oil in the disputed waters. Hostilities resurfaced in May 2014, when Chinese vessels fired water cannons at a Vietnamese flotilla that allegedly approached a large Chinese drilling rig near the Paracel Islands.The row affected Vietnam’s Smaller-scale fishing incidents have instead become the hub of maritime confrontation as declining fish stocks have driven fishermen farther into disputed areas to search for supply, as well as highly profitable illegal species.