There are quite a
lot of rival countries which have been wrangling over territories in the South
China Sea for several ages. The disputes are now starting to escalate and is
feared that the area might become a potential flashpoint of serious global
ramifications in coming future. The dispute over South China Sea is troubled
with conflicting claims over the Spartly and the Parcel Islands as well as with
maritime claims by several countries such as Brunei, China, Malaysia,
Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
China is considered
to be a bully in the region for its expansive claims with island building, militarizing
the Spartly and Parcel Islands with naval patrols. The United States if America
says it does not support any sides in territorial disputes, however, it has
sent military airplanes and naval ships in the disputed areas of the islands.
The country calls it as “Freedom of Navigation” operations to assure access to
shipping and air routes. Both sides have been accusing each other for
militarizing the South China Sea.
The Philippines took
China to ICJ over its claims on Spartly Islands. The tribunal backed the claims
of Philippines over Spartly Islands and said that China is violating the
Philippine’s sovereign rights. China opposed the decision and called it an
“ill-founded” ruling and won’t be binding upon it. There have been several skirmishes
between China and Vietnam as well as with other claimant countries but China
stays firm on its claim. There have been several conflict resolutions to solve
the dispute by regional associations like ASEAN as well as countries such as
United States of America and Russia.
My paper will talk
about the Laws of the Sea and the issues associated with South China Sea. I
shall be talking in depths about the significant roles being played by the claimant
and non-claimant countries as well as world organizations in the disputed area.
vast body of water extending from the Strait of Malacca in the South to the
Strait of Taiwan in the North-East is referred to as South China Sea. More than
500 million people from 10 countries live in the proximity of 100 miles from
its coastline. In the year of 1947, China presented a map to the world, wherein
a line, famously known as 9 Dash Line around the sea was drawn. Through the
map, China asserted that the area lying within those 9 Dash Lines are under its
sovereign authority. China then started taking over the islands which were
under its neighboring country’s controls in the South China Sea and displaced
their armies off the islands. This was done to Vietnam by China and later China
started building air bases on those islands and started to patrol the area with
its naval armies. As a consequence to this, the neighboring countries which
include Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan started to question
the validity of Nine Dash Line claim of China and this is where the dispute actually
issue raises one very important question of how much area of a sea can
exclusively be governed by a country. Thus an international instrument called
as UNCLOS was introduced in 1982 to bring a resolution to such disputes. According
to UNCLOS, each country is promised a right to territorial sovereignty extending
up to 12 nautical miles from the coast of the country in the sea. According to
this rule, China’s territorial sovereignty over South China Sea would be way
lesser than the area they claim. China’s exclusive economic zone would extend
only till 200 nautical miles from the sea coast. However Chinese government says
that it exercises a historical claim over the areas in the South China Sea and therefore
is exempted from the law of 12 nautical miles stated in UNCLOS. In order to resolve
the conflict, Philippines took China to Permanent Court of Arbitration in Netherlands.
After hearings stretching to 3 years, PCA ruled in the favour of Philippines
where it rejected the claims of China’s Nine Dash Line. It said that China had
no legal base and sufficient evidences to prove its claim. The court also said
that China violated the sovereign rights of Philippines in South China Sea and thus
China needs to leave the portions of the sea which lawfully belongs to Philippines.
The dispute also raises different questions pertaining to sovereignty over the
islands and environmental pollution. Although, these issues are not decided by
PCA, the decision is definitely a game changer.
there are two reasons as to why this dispute is very important for many
countries. Firstly, any instability in this area can affect maritime commerce
and secondly, the one in control of the sea can control the trade and also
strategic advantage during war. Thus several non-claimant countries and
regional associations are interfering in the dispute to settle it down
otherwise the entire world will have to bear the consequences in trade.