South China Sea disputes | IAS Target IAS Target

South China Sea disputes

The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region.

Some Important facts about South China Sea:

Claimant countries of the disputed region Brunei, China, Indonesia, Taiwan , Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Estimated US$3.5 trillion worth of global trade Passes through the South China Sea annually (which is 1/3rd of the global maritime trade)
80 percent China´s Energy imports passes through the South China Sea
39.5 percent China´s total trade passes through the South China Sea

The disputes include:

  • Claimant states are interested in acquiring or retaining the rights to fishing stocks, the exploration and potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas in the seabed of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.
  • The islands, banks, reefs, and other features of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and various boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin.
  • There are further disputes, including the waters near the Indonesian Natuna Islands, which many do not regard as part of the South China Sea.

Since 2013, China has resorted to island-building in the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands region. These actions have been met with wide international condemnation and since 2015 the United States and other states such as France and the United Kingdom have conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) in the region. In 2002 – ASEAN and China signed the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea”, but in 2009 China issued two diplomatic notes that appear to claim a majority of the South China Sea. In 2013 – The Philippines challenged China’s claims of historic rights and other actions in an arbitration case under the Law of the Sea Convention.
In July 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled against China's maritime claims in the Philippines v/s China. The tribunal didn’t rule on the ownership of the islands or restrict maritime boundaries. China and Taiwan stated that they did not identify the tribunal and insisted that the matter should be resolved through bilateral negotiations with other claimants.

Disputes in SCS b/w different countries

  • Maritime boundary along the Vietnamese coast between China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  • Islands, reefs, banks, and shoals in the South China Sea, including the Paracel Islands, the Pratas Islands, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal, and the Spratly Islands between China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and parts of the area also contested by Malaysia and the Philippines. Recent China acquired these territories and converting these into a military base.
  • The nine-dash line area claimed by the Republic of China, later the People's Republic of China (PRC), which covers most of the South China Sea and overlaps with the exclusive economic zone claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. This nine-dash line is hypothetical and not accepted by other countries.
  • Maritime boundary off the coast of Palawan and Luzon between the PRC, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Maritime boundary, land territory, and the islands of Sabah, including Ambalat, between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Maritime boundary and islands in the Luzon Strait between the PRC, the Philippines, and Taiwan

Importance of SCS

  • This sea holds tremendous strategic importance because it has the connecting link (Strait of Malacca) between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
  • The South China Sea is an active international waterway, from where global trade worth more than $5 trillion and is growing year on year.
  • SCS has 1/3rd of the entire world’s marine biodiversity and contains lucrative fisheries providing food security to the Southeast Asian nations.
  • It is a rich source of hydrocarbons and natural resources.

Nine-dash line

The Nine-Dash Line—at various times also referred to as the "10-dash line" and the "11-dash line"— vaguely located, demarcation line used initially by the Republic of China (1912–1949) and subsequently the governments of the Republic of China (ROC, which governs Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China (PRC), for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea.

The contested area in the South China Sea includes:

  • the Spratly Islands
  • the Paracel Islands,
  • various other areas including the Pratas Islands
  • the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal

The claim encompasses the area of Chinese land reclamation known as the "Great Wall of Sand". China added a dash to the Nine-dash line, extending it into the East China Sea. Despite having made the vague claim public in 1947, China has not (as of 2018) filed a formal and defined claim to the area within the dashes. China added a tenth-dash line to the east of Taiwan Island in 2013 as a part of its official sovereignty claim to the disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Issues involved b/w China and its neighbours

  • The dialogue between China and ASEAN is already stalled, as four of the ASEAN nations also made territorial claims on the disputed waters which adds to the problem with the already non-negotiable behaviour of China.
  • China claims most of the contested sea, reaching almost to the philippines shores and has built artificial islands with heavy military developments on them which worries the neighbouring nations and it discards the UN backed international tribunal ruling as well.
  • The nine-dash line asserted by China violates the principle of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Because this line encroach into ASEAN nation's water bodies which also claim in south china sea

Concerns and Challenges in South china sea

  • China’s obstinate behavior and bullying small nations and instead of solving maritime disputes, China claims all swathe of south china sea. Even not attach importance to Permanent court of arbitration and refusal to accept decision show china not respect rule of law
  • Along with China’s bullying tactics, North Korea’s repeated nuclear test create instability and atmosphere of fear in the region. This provoking behaviour has attracted US aircrafts in the already troubled waters. The growth of military vessels and planes in the area makes it more challenging to handle.
  • No clarity regarding maritime boundary and overlapping claims on south china sea resultant disagreement:
    • over dispute settlement mechanisms;
    • the undefined legal status of the Code of Conduct (COC) add to it.
    • different approaches to conflict management (mutual trust, self-restraint, and confidence building);

ASEAN-China and South china sea

Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), 2002
ASEAN and China agreed to promote a friendly, peaceful, and harmonious environment in the South China Sea for the enhancement of peace, stability, economic growth, and prosperity in the region. It reaffirms respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.