The South China Sea is one of the most strategic locations in the world. It is semi-enclosed with China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. It is the largest body of water after the five oceans. A quarter of the world’s trade passes through it. The region is a disputed territory among five nations. China is a nation that is responsible for prolonged conflicts. The Sea is further governed by international law. The law in place is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Current Status Quo
The South China Sea has been a contested area for decades. None of the countries is willing to take a back seat as it is an infringement on their territorial and economic sovereignty. As per the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a country’s economic territory extends to 200 nautical miles off its coast. When the U.N. released the 200 nautical mile rule, China opposed. The Chinese Administration released a different map that had a nine-dash line in the South China Sea. The nine-dash line infringes on the EEZ of certain countries. China uses its military and economic powers to further its cause by sending rocks and sand to its military and thus creating man-made islands.
While Chinese administration states that these islands are for civilian purposes, they have moved military equipment there. Hence, China uses these expansionist policies to dominate the region. Using this method, China has taken over 90% of the Spratly Islands, one of the most resource-rich islands in the world. Under this domination, certain countries appealed to the International Community and U.N. An international tribunal in The Hague ruled that China had no claim as per the nine-dash line. It ruled in favour of the Philippines. However, Xi Jinping, the Chinese Premiere disagreed with the tribunal. He stated that China would not adhere to the ruling.
Seeing Chinese domination, the United States has also stepped into action. There have been some standoffs between the U.S. and Chinese warships in the South China Sea. The United States claims its freedom of navigation, but China disagrees. Yet, the U.S. is there also to respond to an outbreak of conflict in Korea.
History of the South China Sea
The South China Sea has a long history, going back to the 13th Century. The Sea and all its islands were controlled by the Chinese in the past, which is the basis of their claim on the islands. But, in the Second World War, the Japanese military ousted China and claimed the area. Post-Japan lost, it became a disputed area. Yet, the International community does not agree with this argument. It sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to conflicts in every part of the world. For example, the Middle East, in the Israel Palestine Conflict, where millions of people lost their lives. The conflict in the South China Sea could blowout and become a full-fledged war resulting in grave losses.
Hong Kong Crisis
Hong Kong has always been an issue in the Chinese administration. China has always wanted to annex Hong Kong altogether. Hong Kong used to follow one country two states format, which granted it a self-elected government. But, to control Hong Kong completely, China introduced the Hong Kong Security law. This law allows the Chinese Administration to make laws about all matters in Hong Kong. It poses a grave threat to the democracy and freedoms that the people are equipped within Hong Kong. In response, the United States deployed its military vessels – 2 aircraft carriers near the Chinese coastline. They cited it as their freedom of navigation.
Increasing U.S. Presence
The United States has the largest military in the world. Its armed forces are omnipresent in the world deployed in some form at all conflict areas. Recently, its presence has increased in the turbulent South China Sea. An increasing U.S. presence has put the Chinese military on alert. China continues to get and develop the islands using its military muscle yet, now it has become cautious and prepared against any clash with the United States. The United States has begun joint military exercises with countries in the South China Sea. Recently, the 2 U.S. aircraft carriers conducted military exercises in a show of strength to China.
Effect on Bilateral Relations
The United States and China may have public feuds, but it depends on each other for trade. Their bilateral relations are always shifting as per situations. They are not allies but are also not sworn enemies. Although these countries trade with each other, both administrations impose tariffs on goods from the other country. Major US brands outsource their production to China. Brands like Apple etc. have their products assembled in China as it is cheaper. Chinese products find a favourable market in the United States.
But, recently under the Trump Administration, the trade has reduced, and the U.S. and China are in a trade war. A power struggle to dominate the world between these two nations results in the problems for the world. China raises tariffs for those countries that oppose it while the U.S. uses sanctions to curb trade with Russia and China.
Hence, the situation in the South China Sea could result in another Cold War, this time between the U.S. and China and could have worse consequences than the previous one. It could also lead to a direct armed conflict which would crash the world’s economy. Hence, the situation in the South China Sea needs to deescalate without creating a conflict.
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