The South China Sea is among both the most heavily traversed and heavily contested waterways on the planet. With an estimated one-third of all global commerce crossing the expansive body of water at some point and significant natural resources beneath the surface, it’s no small wonder then that a nation like China, eager to exercise greater influence over the world at large, has recently set its sights on dominating it.

While international norms stipulate that a nation’s sovereign waters extend just twelve nautical miles from their shores, China has expanded their claims of ownership over the South China Sea by thousands of miles, gradually growing to encompass the entire stretch of ocean. The United States and a number of other nations have made it clear repeatedly that they do not recognize China’s claimed ownership of waters that extend all the way to the shores of foreign nations, though many countries within the region have been forced to submit to China’s demands — often vacating fishing grounds and even oil platforms that were once considered part of their own nation’s sovereign territory.

This map shows the extent of China’s new claims over the waterway in red, along with the competing claims of other nations within the region. As you can see, China’s claimed sovereignty over the South China Sea extends significantly south of their own borders. | Flickr

The U.S. Navy continues to operate in these waters, often coming to within miles of artificial islands China has built and equipped to aid in their defense of the waterway they have laid claim over, often to the chagrin of Chinese officials who often make public statements that take advantage of the average person’s limited appreciation for the size of the South China Sea and geopolitics at play — accusing America of “aggressively” approaching their territory in the press, despite few or no other nations recognizing the territory as China’s.

This newly released video offers a first-hand look at China’s efforts to lay claim over this globally influential waterway, as a member of the Chinese Navy repeatedly attempts to warn away an American P-8A Poseidon that is conducting routing operations over what America and much of the rest of world consider to be international waters. The repetitive interaction grows more tense as the video goes on, but also provides an interesting look into the reality of foreign relations as an extension of policy. Both the American pilot and the Chinese radio operator act in accordance with their respective nation’s policies regarding the region, serving as the physical instruments of this ongoing geopolitical debate.

Watch the tense interaction below:

Featured image: A P-8A Poseidon flies near the Chesapeake Bay in preparation for another test event. | U.S. Navy photo

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