South China Sea Dispute And Foreign Policy

China's maritime conflicts have spanned decades. The South China Sea (SCS) war over competing exclusive economic zones has an equally complex chronology of events steeped in the chaos of Southeast Asian history. In recent years, China's actions in the SCS have increased concerns in the region, including extensive island-building and base construction activities at sites it occupies in the Spratly Islands, as well as actions by its maritime forces to assert China's claims against competing claims from regional neighbours such as the Philippines and Vietnam.

  • The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia hold separate, often conflicting, territorial claims over the sea in the SCS - one of the world's busiest waterways, based on different historical and geographical accounts.
  • The plaintiffs have taken possession of a number of marine features over the years, including cliffs, islands and Olw-tide elevations.
  • The "nine-dash line" of China is a geographical marker that is used to assert its assertion. It extends from the Chinese mainland as far as 2,000 km, touching waters close to Indonesia and Malaysia. Under what is known as the "nine-dash line," the Chinese government claims an enormous territory. Beijing insists that the region has been under Chinese rule although many disagree with "old times."
  • A complicated network of territorial claims is the SCS. At least six governments say that they are the legitimate owners of parts of the Spartlys and the Paracels.

The government of the Philippines also claims the bulk of the Spratly chain, which lies off its shores. But so far, rather than confrontation, President Rodrigo Duterte has wanted closer ties with China.

The Paracel chain and parts of the Spratlys are claimed by Vietnam, claiming they come under the control of Hanoi. Hanoi's attempts to search for oil within what both consider as their territories have been blocked repeatedly by the Chinese government.

Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all claim or control parts of the area, but they rarely come into conflict over the issue, either due to the smaller size of their stakes or their inability to implement them.



It is about more than prestige and strength to create a place in the SCS. Many claimants are attempting to take possession of fishing rights and probably even more important, but unproven, reserves of oil and gas deep beneath the sea. The Chinese government maintains that Beijing controls the vast majority of all resources in the South China Sea, and has interrupted Vietnam 's attempts to discover its own waters off the shores of Tis.

Controlling access to the SCS will also give the holder control over one of the most lucrative trade routes in the world, giving the nation that dominates its waters tremendous influence. According to the Center for Strategic & International Studies' (CSIS) China Power Initiative, the sea hosts one third of global shipping, worth more than $3 trillion in 2016. That included 874 billion dollars worth of Chinese exports, as well as 125 billion dollars worth of US imports from the country.

According to CSIS estimates, over 80 per cent of trade to and from Vietnam and Indonesia passes through the sea. It is also an important point of entry to the Malacca Strait, a narrow shipping passage providing access to the Indian Ocean and trade with countries beyond. however, it is not just resources and trade routes that are driving the U.S. to challenge the supremacy of China in the region. If the South China Sea is effectively closed by an increasingly strong Chinese military to American ships and aircraft, it would restrict U.S. efficiency as a world power.




In East Asia, the US has broad-based security commitments and is allied with a range of countries bordering the SCS, such as the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. While the US is not formally affiliated with either of the claimants, it has carried out free navigation operations aimed at challenging what Washington considers to be excessive claims and at granting commercial ships free passage in its waters.

China claims the South China Sea as its own sea, almost all of it, including the secret underlying oil and gas deposits. These are tools urgently needed nowadays by Beijing, as America is cutting off its supply to the Middle East. And China has done whatever it takes to claim its right of possession of these properties. Like the construction of artificial islands in the contested waters, and the sailing of their warships. On one of the islands, Sansha on Woody Island, China has also built a new settlement, resulting in increased Chinese tourism. China has consistently criticized the US for behaving in a 'provocative' manner, although in recent years it has begun to defend its statements in a more assertive way.


Traditionally, Southeast Asian nations have opposed finding a bilateral solution with China, the principal economic and military force of the region. Despite this, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to settle the conflict with China through bilateral talks one year after the landmark ruling against China's territorial claims.

Likewise, Vietnam, China's most outspoken critic, has softened its stance. The government said in 2018 that it would be prepared to hold talks with China to settle disputes "in compliance with international law" in the region.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been working on an official code of conduct with China to prevent disputes in the disputed waters. A binding agreement has been negotiated to no avail for years, but both parties decided on a single draft negotiating document in August 2018.


The role of Russia in the South China Sea has been traditionally insignificant. In the South China Sea, Russia has been low-key because it actually does not have anything at stake. Few of Russia's energy resources flow through the South China Sea waters. Russia does not yet have the scope or the need to engage in regional quarrels and has no significant economic interests to support it. Russia's knowledge of the South China Sea is very low, and rarely a topic of presidential politics.

The interest in the conflicts that do occur stems from the strong relations between Russia and both China and Vietnam. Russia is a long-standing supplier of weapons to both countries and has been central to Vietnam's naval modernization, especially with six Kilo-class submarines capable of carrying Klub missiles from the Vietnamese navy. This is in addition to the corvettes, frigates, fighter jets, and missile defence systems that make it possible for Vietnam to retaliate and probably deter China. Freedom of navigation and the understanding of this principle are one of the great issues at stake in the South China Sea. In addition, Russia can find itself deeper in the long run, as long as its Asia policy is a full-scale shift and not just a small adjustment in its bilateral commitments.



A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where, in various territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons, China is pitted against smaller neighbours. The waters are a major shipping route for global trade and are abundant in fish and potential reserves of oil and gas.

Recently, a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near the Paracel Islands in a challenge to China's claim to the seas around them. The USS Wayne E. Meyer activity has shown that the waters are beyond what China can claim under international law as its internal waters or territorial seas. With a delicate plan to look into joint offshore oil and gas exploration in and close to the disputed South China Sea, China and the Philippines are moving ahead.

Two weeks of battle exercises on ground, sea and air, which will include mock interdictions and amphibious landings on two island provinces facing the South China Sea, were initiated by around 1,500 Philippine military personnel. Air and sea interdiction exercises will take place in a training area in the province of Palawan, while amphibious landings will be carried out at another training site in the province of Zambales, two regions facing the South China Sea. In the disputed waters, China has frowned on military drills, especially those being staged by the US.

China and Malaysia agreed to set up a framework for consultation to address and resolve their differences with regard to maritime issues. China and the Philippines, however, have a similar body that has met many times, although any significant territorial disputes have yet to be resolved.



India's back-to - back moves to improve relations with Japan and Russia, particularly in security matters, seem to suggest that it wants a larger naval presence in the contested South China Sea to counter China's rise. However, for three reasons, it is unlikely to abandon its policy of non-intervention in Southeast Asian and SCS security relations. First India is not a party to the region's maritime territorial disputes and is unlikely to want to intervene in a problem that is not directly concerned with it.

Second, Indian policymakers know that Beijing operates from a place of power, where sensitive islands in the SCS are physically monitored. The possession of these characteristics gives Beijing the power, regardless of the rights and interests of other regional states, to assert strategic authority over the disputed territory.

Third, and perhaps most important, India is keen on retaining its "Wuhan deal" with China. Beijing hopes that India's sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean will be respected in the same way that Delhi will honour Beijing's in Southeast Asia.

Even if China has not behaved in good faith recently, the Indian government is unwilling to break its goodwill pact with Beijing by calling for an informal meeting of the UN Security Council to address the Kashmir issue. India is not impervious to the threat posed by China to the region's trade flows or to the major challenges posed to Indian energy and strategic interests. For Indian policymakers, access to major waterways in Southeast Asia is an significant factor, as is the need to develop capacity in the ASEAN Member States. Both are essential to the evolving Indo-Pacific vision of New Delhi. Notwithstanding the efforts of the Government of India to enforce the 'Act East' strategy, and a general increase in connectivity and economic diplomacy initiatives, India has yet to gather the political gumption to take a firm stand against Chinese aggression in the regional commons.



China has shown that there are other ways in the South China Sea to inch its way forward and extend its de facto influence. Just two possible strategies are to draw out formal talks and buy off their neighbours. Moscow has and continues to use similar strategies to tighten its grip on and increasingly reinforce the Black Sea peninsula four years after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Similarly, it is not easy to reject the idea that China will sustain its presence on various features in the South China Sea and increase its military presence in a demonstration of power, particularly as the culmination of China's efforts to date have dramatically increased its military presence in the South China Sea and drastically improved the peacetime and wartime role of Beijing.


Any suggestions or correction in this article - please click here

Share this Post:

Related Posts: