The Troubled South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific
Today, the South China Sea is troubled as never before. The Chinese hegemony in the troubled waters are at its peak for the last several months. Eversince the Chinese threatened the Senkaku Island claimed by both Japan and Taiwan, the friction has been increasing. Chinese keep issuing threats to Taiwan of invasion. The Chinese expect that all nations in the region will willingly forego their rights to the international waters of the South China Sea. Chinese also expect that none will murmer to their brazen disregard to the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the South China Sea. The past experience of the Americans for their security stragegies in the Indo-Pacific somewhat encouraged China to undertake incursions in to the American Defence Installations at Guam Island. China expects that it will unilaterally continue redrawing the international borders in its vicinities. It will not be acceptable any more. The international regulation of the UN Convention of the Laws of Sea (UNCLOS) impart them the control over 12 nautical miles sea-ward of the ‘Territorial water’from the low tide points; another 12 nm of the territorial water contiguous zone and 200 nm of exclusive economic zone from the baseline. However, it is all international waters beyond the territorial water.
China is brazenly violating the UNCLOS in the South China Sea. In the violation of all conventions, it has arbitrarily plotted 9 dotted lines for the other nations, claiming the entire part of sea for itself…encroaching the international waters…something that the International Cout of Justice (ICJ) has nullified in 2016 but China refuses to follow the ruling. China has also encroached and occupied the groups of smaller un-inhabited islands (Paracel, Pratas, Zhongsha and Spratly) traditionally belonging to the other nations in the region.On some of these islands, China has artificially expanded the areas and constructed military Runways and other PLA garrisons incl missile deployment. It is an open violation of international laws by the Chinese and the smaller and weaker nationas in the region have been threatened by China to remain quiet, not to rake-up the issue ‘Or Else….’. It is a very grave situation in the SCS. This is not all. China kept on pushing its power much beyond in the Pacific Sea…threatening even US Guan island. That is the time when the US administration woke-up and decided to tame the bull on run. In no time, a substantial US Naval force arrived in the SCS accompanied by two aircraft carriers US Nimitz and US Ronald regan along with numerous other supporting warships. This is the time when the Quad nations re-united in the SCS to maintain its presence for substantial period of time, carring extercises in the international waters extensing from the SCS…to Malacca strait…Indian Ocean extending even to Arabian Sea.
Chinese have also been threatening many of the Whitsun reef and other islands of Philippines. Recently in March 2021, over 200 Chinese fising boats were spotted in theie EEZ. They have lodged protest but the Chinese are trying to bully. Till now, Philippines and other ASEAN nations have been avoiding any standoff in the SCS but it seems water is flowing over head now. Phillipines on 25 Mar 21 has asked its navy ships to be deployed in the vicinity of the reef. With the US Naval forces present in the SCS, the Chinese can not brush off the challenge.
The Chinese are also threatening Malaysian Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) in the SCS. Vietnam and Indonesia too have loged strong submissions to the UNCLOS. Thus all these nations are being bullied by the Chinese growing might in marine waters. Indonesia have larger stakes as it forms a large part of the Malacca Strait. They have been threatened by the Chinese in the past against being against the Chinese interest. Time has come when all of these nations will have to unite together and join hands with the Quad nations in combatting the Chinese bully in the Indo-Pacific. There have been some positive moves in the formal setting up of the Quad group eventhough the term of reference mentions it as quadrilateral security dialogue. Some elements of Security alliance will surely be there that will be helpful for other nations in the region too. The head of States of USA, India, Japan and Australia virtually met on 12 March 21 under the banner of the Quad to claim a threat-free Indo-pacific incl the South China Sea among some other resolve. It must bring hopes for all smaller nations in this region to be freed from any threat so that they can operate in their waters freely.
South China Sea is only a small part of the wider power game in the Indo-Pacific. Increasing Chinese dominance is being perceived in many other areas too…be it Taiwan Strait, East China Sea, Yellow Sea or other parts of Indo-Pacific. The new Quad initiative is for the entire Indo-Pacific and all stakesholders will have to obey the law of the sea. Chinese are also showing evidence of their future strategic dominance in Indian and Arabian Sea through their establishments at Hambantota and Chabahar port, not to ignore of the Paki leased islands where they are trying to set-up dual purpose reconnaissance and monitoring establishments.