The South China Sea is a vital trading passage for China, Japan and Korea, as well as other nations on the western rim of the Pacific, serving as their only bulk trading route with key markets in the Americas and Europe, amongst others. Over $5 trillion of annual shipping trade passes through the region, and, according to the Wall Street Journal, U.S.-only imports and exports make up $1.2 trillion of this. The waters allow domestic goods, oil and raw materials to transit to destinations around the world.
Circumnavigating the South China Sea to avoid conflict would be more expensive for shipping firms as the waters serve as part of the most direct sea route between the Asian and European continents. The extra distance would involve massive extra fuel costs.
Simon Lockwood, deputy managing director, marine at Willis Towers Watson believes that a shift in the balance of power in a region like this is unlikely to have an adverse effect on trading vessels, but added this was providing the power shift "does not coincide with open hostilities."