The South China Sea Dispute

Saturday, 08 August 2020


The South China Sea Dispute

Pratik Dhar | August 01, 2020 13:20 hrs

The South China Sea has always been a point of contention for a few southeast Asian countries which have been making uninterrupted competing claims over the region. Rival nations with rigorous attempts have continuously been contending over the territory for centuries. But the recent years have definitely witnessed some varying and escalating tensions that could probably change the face of the earth in the course of action leading to a far bigger catastrophic upshot. 

What is the argument about?

The South China Sea holds a stretch of around 1.4 million sq. miles in the Pacific Ocean. Now, it is not just a dispute over territorial claims of the two island chains of Paracels and Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoals and the nearby geographical features. Rather, a larger motive breathes beneath, establishing supreme leadership and procuring potentials that are of immense strategic significance. 

Being a major shipping route, one-third of the world’s shipping passes through the region, carrying global maritime trade of over $3 trillion every year. Apart from this, the claimant nations like the People’s Republic of China, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Brunei are eyeing for the fishing stocks for a long time and are involved in the race to acquire the rights of these lucrative fisheries to suffice the growing needs of the ever-demanding millions of Southeast Asian population. 

Moreover, the rising demand for other resources like the hydrocarbons has certainly chalked out a channel for the mega economic competition in a recent perspective. According to World Bank, the South China Sea comprises proven oil reserves of a minimum of seven billion barrels and an approximate amount of 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which is slightly different from the reports of EIA (Energy Information Administration), United States. The body estimates that the South China Sea contains an approximate measure of 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. But in relation to the statistics of both the estimates, a well-grounded assumption can be readily derived that smaller nations like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia will have a great number of economic opportunities eventually while the energy security of China can be confirmed at a larger stake in the future.

The ongoing disputes in the South China Sea make it likely to ignite an extensive territorial inferno capable of mass-scale devastation in the coming times. The confronting issues of sovereignty are subject to no easy resolution. The constant overlapping territorial claims are based on accounts of various historical and geographical claims and such claims have become more noticeable in the course of time. China has been claiming more than 80 percent territory, while Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. The Philippines is arguing over the ownership of Spratly Archipelago and the Scarborough Shoal, while Malaysia and Brunei have been constantly claiming rights over the southern parts of the sea and some of Spratly Islands. 

China and the South China Sea

China’s move on consolidating its paramilitary power and political-legal actions can jeopardize the stability of the region that can result in a bitter face-off with the other competing nations. Ever since the implementation of the ‘nine-dash line’, China encircling a major chunk of the contested waters have lately raised many eyebrows in the international forum. The neighboring nations are now living with considerable apprehensions regarding the region’s calamitous future. 

Though China’s territorial claim is itself insubstantial, it does not look impressive enough and would not be able to support long term peace. The history of its sovereignty over the region as stated by Beijing goes centuries back when the island chains of Paracel and Spratly were its integral parts, and in 1947 issued a map detailing its claim. However, criticism has poured in from all corners in rejection of such claims. Critics say the People’s Republic of China have not shed light on the subject sufficiently and moreover its nine-dash line has no coordinates to hold its point on the table.

But despite such chaos, China continues to build military and industrial boundaries on its artificial islands in the South China Sea hardly caring about the grave repercussions.

All this time, turning a blind eye to the situation, the concerned nations without interceding much into the matter, offered China enough time to strengthen its grip over the region.  

However, in recent years the United States’ intervention with its intensified military and naval capabilities in the South China Sea, have clearly outlined a new impression. According to the United States, claimant countries, under UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), should have freedom of navigation through the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and are not required to notify claimants of military activities. To protect the security and economic interest in the region, the United States has challenged China’s assertive reclamation policies by conducting a number of freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs).

The role of the United States can make a significant mark by preventing military aggression resulting from constant territorial conflicts. The rising failure of the South East Asian leaders and representatives in resolving the ongoing arguments could diminish the essence of the international laws controlling naval disputes and destabilizing the progression of perilous weaponries. 

(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.)

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