This is first article related to series of our writing about geo political issues that are potentially one of the issue that could out break a great war in the world. South China Sea issue basically about the maritime territorial control of the greatest sea of the world that is one of the major trade route of the world as well. This maritime boundary delimitation dispute is between the countries around South China Sea and countries that have interest due to importance of the trade route like US and Japan.
Where is South China Sea
First we shall dig into the geography of the area to get better understanding. The sea is part of Western Pacific Ocean. South China Sea is one major part of China Sea where another one is East China Sea. It is surrounded by China Philippine, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan. On its west Bay of Bengal lies (largest bay of the world).
Significance of South China Sea
· Shortest route between Pacific and Indian Ocean through Malacca strait (Strategically one of the most important strait of the world)
· It is one of the busy trade route of the world, about 30% of world maritime trade goes from it
· Substantial natural resources, it is estimated that approximately 11 billion untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic gas reserves it could contain
· National pride of the surrounding countries
· Strategic significance to the Asian security paradigm and to global stability.
· Freedom of navigation through the South China Sea is really matters for great naval powers like US, Russia and Japan, historically the strait of Malacca that connect South China Sea with Indian Ocean was remain under the control of Britain which was the super power of its time primarily due to strength of its navy
China’s Claim in South China Sea
China claims to use and discovery of these islands goes back to second century, till 1947 it claimed the area with eleven dashed lines U shaped area which it replaced with 9 dash lines in 1949. This U shaped area covers about 90 percent of the area.
How China claims to such huge area
Two types of sea control for a country could be as following
a) The country territorial waters is up to 12 nautical miles (i.e. about 22 kilometers)
b) Country exclusive economic zone is the area in adjacent sea up to 200 nautical miles (i.e. about 370 kilometers) from its coast line
c) This 200 nautical miles include the any claim regarding continental shelf or contiguous zone
China claims more than 80 percent of the sea, quite far (more than 200 nautical mile limit) from main land china as you can see in map. The other Far East (South East Asian) countries that have rival claims are Philippine, Malaysia, Bruin, Vietnam and Taiwan. Five of the countries involved in the issue China, Philippine, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam are members of ASEAN, which is only Asian true economic cooperation organization.
Coming back to the point, how China claims to such huge and far area, In fact there are different islands in this area that goes to far south of the sea. China extends its territorial claim based on its control on these islands The four main islands involved in this maritime boundary disputes is are the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Reef/Shoal, the Paracel Islands and Natuna Island.
What is the conflict?
So now question arises why china claim is disputed, there are multiple aspects of it. First is the china control on these islands is not non-controversial. Vietnam (it had war against China in 1980 and against US during the third quarter of 20th century) has the second major claim. It says it was ruling over Spratly and Paracel Islands since 17th century. Philippine claims on its nearly Spratly, Scarborough islands. Malaysia claims territorial water claim near its boundary and some islands of Spratly group. Brunei only want control on sea near its boundary.
Second according to UN most of the islands do not satisfy the conditions need to be met for being eligible for EEZ (islands which cannot sustain human inhabitation or economic life at their own can merely be classified as rocks & can’t avail 200 nautical mile marine territory claim, most of the reefs and atolls fall in this category). China also creating new artificial islands there which also are not eligible for EEZ and it also further aggravating the dispute. Though Philippine, Vietnam and Taiwan were building the island there for decades but China just leave their collective presence (number of islands and military presence) within one and half year it started.
Philippine went to Permanent court of arbitration (PCA) in 2013. PCA gave its ruling in 1916. Following were the main point of the ruling
· Rejected Chinas historical claims
· Declared China responsible to violate Philippine sovereignty with in its EEZ
· Condemned building of artificial islands by China
· Caused the artificial island to damaging marine ecosystem
US, Japan and South China Sea surrounded countries welcomed the verdict whereas China denounces the verdict null and void saying tribunal was partial, there are historical instance in which some powers just neglect the PCA rulings and said that PCA has no jurisdiction in this matter. Moreover PCA has no authority to enforce its decision as PC is not a court but intergovernmental body.
China is intended to get sort the issue using bilateral negotiations as it do not want to ruined it relations with ASEAN countries and disturbing its long term ambitions like maritime silk road, one belt one road and AIIB. This intention can’t be taken as China would withdraw from its claim. China is increasing its military presence in both natural and artificial island in the Sea.
On the other hand USA which wants its control in the area is intensifying the proxy war at here especially after the Trump came in power, it has strong presence neat Taiwan and now A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is expected to make a port visit to Vietnam in March first time since Vietnam war. US also likely to resist china increasing power and influence.
So though war is not unavoidable but the area remain the flash point as in the near future no win-win solution is seeing being implemented.