South China Sea Exports from ChinaPower

Trade and Maritime Security

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The ChinaPower Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) analyzes the evolving nature of Chinese power relative to other nations in five key areas of capabilities: military, economic, social, technology, and international image and engagement.

The South China Sea bears geopolitical significance for many reasons including the fact that around one-third of global shipping and about 21 percent of global trade moves through it. China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea all rely on the Strait of Malacca, which connects the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean, as the shortest and most economical passageway connecting these important bodies of water. Over 64 percent of China’s maritime trade transited the South China Sea in 2016.

The volume of shipping through this strait, including one third of all the global petroleum products moving by sea, raises the specter of trade disruption were China or other great powers to assert control over this vital shipping route. Although the maritime industry and its customers could absorb higher costs of rerouting, long-term uncertainty around commercial use of the Strait of Malacca could create a ripple effect throughout existing global supply chains as the countries tied to the South China Sea are home to major global suppliers and production hubs.


South China Sea Maritime Chokepoints full graphic (2)

ChinaPower worked to construct a new dataset for South China Sea trade to offer an accurate assessment of just how important the South China Sea and the straits that connect it with the rest of the world are. Visit their website to see the volumes of who and how much is being traded through the South China Sea at

To take a closer look specifically at the question of oil trade chokepoints in the South China Sea, visit the U.S. Energy Information Administration at and its publication, 2017 World Oil Transit Chokepoints.