The eastern Mediterranean (east of Crete) and the South China Basin are small ocean basins surrounded by continental masses and are currently undergoing closure. They were both formed by the rifting of continental fragments away from large continents. A comparison of the geological evolution of the two basins indicates a remarkable similarity in the sequence of evolutionary stages that took place in both basins, although the age of these stages is probably different for each of the two. The formation of the two basins is a consequence of a much larger process in which large lithospheric plates south and north of the basins move toward each other: Africa, including Sinai and Arabia, toward Eurasia and India‐Australia toward Eurasia and the Pacific. Each basin went through several stages of evolution during which oceanic crust was created and destroyed. During each stage the area of the newly formed oceanic crust was smaller than the area formed in the previous stage. It appears as if similar evolutionary patterns also occurred in other marginal and small ocean basins formed by continental rifting.