Recently China (Chinese Communist Party) warned off a US warship sailing near contested Paracel islands (Xisha Islands) in the South China Sea.

Two US carriers conduct exercises in South China Sea

China’s Claim

  • The People’s Republic of China lays claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, including the Paracel Islands or Xisha Islands.
    • However other countries Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia Brunei and Vietnam also claim parts of the region, believed to hold valuable oil and gas deposits.
  • It has alleged that the US warship broke into China’s Paracel island’s territorial waters without the permission of the Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party and accused USA for “seriously violating China’s sovereignty” and “harming regional peace.”
  • USA’s Stand
    • The United States of America has argued that such exercises are in line with international law and help defend the right of passage through the region amid competing claims by China and other governments.
    • It is in sync with the USA’s continuous efforts to counter China’s assertion in South China Sea. Recently the United States Navy sent an aircraft carrier group into the South China Sea.
  • South China Sea
    • It is an arm of western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia. It is south of China, east & south of Vietnam, west of the Philippines and north of the island of Borneo.
      • It is connected by Taiwan Strait with the East China Sea and by Luzon Strait with the Philippine Sea.
    • Bordering states & territories (clockwise from north): Mainland China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
    • Strategic Importance: This sea holds tremendous strategic importance for its location as it is the connecting link between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean (Strait of Malacca).
      • According to the United Nations Conference on Trade And Development one-third of the global shipping passes through it, carrying trillions of trade which makes it a significant geopolitical water body.
Two US carriers conduct exercises in South China Sea
  • Reasons For Dispute in the South China Sea
    • Contesting Claims Over Islands:
      • Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands) are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
      • Spratly Islands are claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Philippines.
      • Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinlo) is claimed by Philippines, China and Taiwan.
    • China’s Assertion
      • Since the 2010, the People’s Republic of China has been converting uninhabited islets into artificial islets to bring it under UNCLOS (examples would include Haven Reef, Johnson South Reef and Fiery Cross Reef).
      • China has been changing the size and structure of the reefs by modifying their physical land features. It has also established airstrips on Parcel and Spratly.
      • Chinese fishing fleets are engaged in paramilitary work on behalf of the state rather than the commercial enterprise of fishing.
      • The United States is very critical of this building of artificial islands and terms these actions of China as building a ‘great wall of sand’.
    • Other Issues
      • Undefined geographic scope of the South China Sea.
      • Disagreement over dispute settlement mechanisms.
      • Undefined legal status of the Code of Conduct add to it.
      • The different histories of distant, largely uninhabited archipelagos of the sea make the matter more complicated and multifaceted.
Two US carriers conduct exercises in South China Sea
  • India’s Stand
    • India has maintained that it is not a party to the South China Sea dispute and its presence in the South China Sea is not to contain China but to secure its own economic interests, especially that of its energy security needs.
    • However, Mainland China’s increasing ability to decide and expand its role in the South China Sea has compelled India to reevaluate its approach on the issue.
    • As a key element of the Act East Policy, India has started internationalizing disputes in the Indo-Pacific region to oppose China’s threatening tactics in South China Sea
    • Further, India is using its Buddhist legacy to make a strong bond with the Southeast Asian region.
    • India has also deployed its navy with Vietnam in the South China Sea for protection of sea lanes of communication, denying China any space for assertion.
    • Also, India is part of Quad initiative (India, USA, Japan, Australia) and lynchpin of Indo-Pacific narrative. These initiatives are viewed as a containment strategy by China.

Two US carriers conduct exercises in South China Sea Two US carriers conduct exercises in South China Sea