Reuters reports that China's growing military presence in the South China Sea has drawn warnings from the United States that Beijing is seeking to exert control over one of the world's most important sea lanes, but so far the shipping industry seems less concerned.
Beijing has been increasingly assertive in staking its claim to almost the whole of the sea, though which trillions of dollars of trade passes each year.
Merchant shipping says operations are, as yet, unaffected, despite the diplomatic tensions. "For ship owners, it’s business as usual," said Captain Bjorn Hojgaard, chief executive officer at Anglo-Eastern Univan Group, one of the world's biggest ship management companies.
China landed its first test flights on a new 3,000 metre (10,000 ft) runway it has built on a reef in the Spratly Islands this month, drawing protests from Vietnam and the Philippines which have overlapping claims in the area.
The geography of the region offers few economically viable alternative routes for large oil tankers, dry-bulk ships and container vessels.
Reuters shipping data shows that, counting just Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) super-tankers, some 25 VLCCs are passing between the Spratly and Paracel islands at any time, with enough capacity to carry the equivalent of about 11 days’ worth of Japanese demand.