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  • Why in news?
  • Background
  • Importance of South China Sea
  • What is the case about?
  • Are Chinese claims valid?
  • What next?
  • India’s involvement in issue
  • Further role by India

Why in news?

  • The Permanent Court of Arbitration at Hague has declared that China cannot claim any historic rights over islands in the South China sea. The tribunal also ruled that China has violated Philippines’s sovereign rights.
  • The dispute had been raised by Philippines in 2013. However, China had refused to participate in the tribunal proceedings, questioning jurisdiction among other things.
  • After the tribunal announced the verdict, China has officially announced it has neither accepted nor recognised the award of the tribunal.
  • This award had been looked forward to by many countries including India and USA, both of which have strategic maritime as well as economic interests in the region.



  • The South China Sea is located at the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, to Asia’s southeast.
  • It encompasses an area of about 1.4 million square miles and contains a collection of reefs, islands and atolls, including the Spratly Islands,Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal.
  • China has been claiming the historic control of over 85% of South China Sea, while countries like Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei also have been making competing claims.

Importance of South China Sea

  • It is a 3.5m sq km waterway.
  • One of the world’s most strategically vital maritime spaces.
  • More oil passes through here than the Suez Canal.
  • More than $5 trillion in trade flows through its waters each year. That is a third of all global maritime commerce.
  • The Strait of Malacca that links Indian and Pacific Oceans handles four times as much oil as Suez Canal.

 What is the case about?

  • Philippines brought its dispute with China to international arbitration in January 2013, despite Beijing’s warnings of a diplomatic and economic backlash.
  • The Philippines asked a tribunal of five arbitrators to declare as invalid China’s vast claims, known as nine-dash lines for the dashes that demarcate virtually all of the South China Sea as Chinese territory, under the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Seas, or UNCLOS.
  • The Philippines also asked the tribunal to classify whether a number of disputed areas are islands, low-tide coral outcrops or submerged banks to determine the stretch of territorial waters they are entitled to under the convention.
  • It also wants China to be declared in violation of the convention for carrying out fishing and construction activities that breached the Philippines’ maritime rights.

Are Chinese claims valid?

  • China had joined UNCLOS long before and has accepted international jurisdictions.
  • However, their current discourse is that China was not the party to the rule making and hence, China has some hesitation in fully following the UNCLOS provisions.
  • The Chinese proposal is that SCS is a territorial sea which means that freedom of navigation would be problematic, although they clarified that they are not obstructing the freedom of navigation or have obstructed before.

What next?

  • The award can’t be enforced as Chinese have rejected it.
  • What is going to be instructive is how China will respond as PCA doesn’t have any enforcement mechanism.
  • UNCLOS has made it very clear that if a country has equivalent of manmade islands, which is what is at dispute here, the country does not have a maritime entitlement.
  • There is a claim which says that China’s territorial water goes up to 2000 kms!! which is quite untenable.
  • Thus, Chinese response is going to be very critical. However, the first sign of foreign office statement from Beijing has been very categorical. They have used ‘null and void’ to answer the verdict, which is very strong.

India’s involvement in issue

From India’s perspective, the freedom of navigation and overflight is critical for two reasons:

  • Lot of India’s trade passes through SCS. Therefore, India cannot accept the situation where India is dependent on the goodwill of Chinese for transit.
  • If China manages to establish its sovereignty over these islands and waters, then it becomes a very important base for its power projection in the Indian Ocean. This is what concerns India.

India is at present, not taking sides between the contestants in the dispute. So, the Indian position is balanced. At this stage, when it is talked about geopolitical dimension, India should continue this stand.

Further role by India

  • The role India could play while awaiting China’s response is to engage in a chat with Beijing and cite the India-Bangladesh example that there is a case of principles and that India is taking no position on territoriality but is talking about the way in which maritime practice and law must be respected because that has bearing on the larger issues of global order.
  • India can try to deal with each of the major stakeholders in its own way as it has in the past.


Any doubts?

  1. Profile photo of Nchang H Khuzuakbo Nchang H Khuzuakbo

    China defiant to the PCA verdict was expected. China’s NINE DASH LINE claiming over the virtually SOUTH CHINA SEA is unacceptable under the international law since China is also the member of UNCLOS. The overlapping claims among the ASEAN nations excluding China should maintain cooperation instead of confrontation at this crucial hour. China cannot unilaterally impose their AIDZ which could escalate into arms confrontations among the Asian countries and may lead to long term conflicts if China is not ready to compromise on their misfit claims over the entire sea.
    India have the role to play to appeal to the disputed claims among the ASEAN countries to show restraint and sort out the problems based on UNCLOS laws without unilaterally impose their claims. India should not accept active participation while maintaining good relations with the ASEAN nations. India needs to focus more on nation building rather than meddling in needless conflict.

  2. Profile photo of Raghava Sandeep Reddy Raghava Sandeep Reddy

    Monroe doctrine should be a valid intervention in the SCS dispute over the US stance in territorial disputes

  3. Profile photo of Deepak Garg Deepak Garg

    Kindly also provide thia app fir ios

  4. Profile photo of Sowmya reddy Sowmya reddy

    Please do work on it.
    We are waiting.

  5. Profile photo of vishal singh vishal singh

    Please work on it…..civils daily is very helpful

  6. Profile photo of Gajendra Patel Gajendra Patel

    Pls give explanation urgently

  7. Profile photo of Devesh Tiwari Devesh Tiwari

    Bullying over Bullying is not at all solution . American tactics of “Bullying” is effective on small countries of Africa and Middle East Asia, but they cant do same with China. it will only create more tension in that region. in more childish way i can say ” mentality of US– Asia is progressing so now time to add mess in progress and use our old arsenals just like they are doing in Iraq and Syria” .

  8. Profile photo of Jayansh Singh Jayansh Singh

    Some important limits as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS III) –

    1. Territorial Waters – 12 nautical miles from the baseline(from which the territorial sea is measured), wherein vessels are allowed “innocent passage” only. Coastal states are free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource.

    2. Contiguous zone – extends from the outer edge of the territorial sea up to 24 nautical miles from the baseline. Coastal nations have limited control here and can enforce laws related to taxation, customs, immigration and pollution. Also a zone of hot pursuit(

    3. Exclusive Economic Zone – extends from the outer edge of the territorial sea up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline. It includes the contiguous zone. A coastal nation has control of all economic resources such as fishing, mining, oil exploration and pollution of those resources within its EEZ.

    1. Profile photo of Arun Muradnar Arun Muradnar

      Good and informative, Jayansh !!

      1. Profile photo of Jayansh Singh Jayansh Singh

        Thanks, Arun! 🙂

China plans station on disputed South China Sea shoal

  1. News: A local Chinese government (Sansha City) says it plans to build an environmental monitoring station on a tiny uninhabited South China Sea shoal at the heart of a territorial dispute with the Philippines
  2. Background: Such stations are already being built on six islands and reefs, including Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines
  3. Beijing seized Scarborough in 2012 after a prolonged standoff with Philippine vessels
  4. China has since allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the shoal following Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s calls for closer ties between the countries
  5. China insists it has historical claims to almost the entire South China Sea, through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year


Note the locations for prelims. By itself the incident is not important. Its signifies the continuing Chinese attempts to assert control over the region.

Vietnam demands China stop cruises in South China Sea

  1. Issue: A Chinese cruise ship with more than 300 passengers visited the disputed Paracel Islands earlier this month
  2. Vietnam demanded that China stop sending cruise ships to the South China Sea in a response to one of Beijing’s latest steps to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway
  3. Vietnam strongly opposes this and demands that China respect Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and international law and immediately stop and not repeat those activities
  4. The claims: China claims 90 per cent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea
    Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about $5 trillion of trade a year
  5. Countries competing to cement their rival claims have encouraged a growing civilian presence on disputed islands in the South China Sea
  6. The first cruises from China to the Paracel islands were launched by Hainan Strait Shipping Co in 2013
  7. The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan


A link in the South China Sea issue. Know about the claims and keep track of the issue.

Q. South China Sea has assumed great geopolitical significance in the present context. Comment. [GS-1, Mains 2016]

‘One-China policy is non-negotiable’

  1. What: China warned that any change in the U.S.’s one-China policy will impair ties between Beijing and Washington
  2. President-elect Donald Trump, has questioned the U.S.’s persistence with the one-China policy, unless there were concessions from Beijing on trade and other issues
  3. He also blamed China for devaluing its currency, and not cooperating with Washington on North Korea and the South China Sea
  4. The one-China policy underscores recognition of China’s sovereignty over Taiwan — a position that has been held by the U.S. since 1979
  5. According to experts, Mr. Trump was possibly using the Taiwan issue to try and strike a bargain with China over trade


Rejection of the One China policy could inject new uncertainty into South China Sea. This development should be followed as it develops.


One China policy – is the diplomatic acknowledgement of the Chinese position that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is a part of that China. Under the policy, the US has formal ties with China rather than the island of Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day.

As a part of the policy, Washington maintains a robust, non-official relationship with Taiwan, including continued arms sales to the island. Although Taiwan’s government claims it is an independent country officially called the “Republic of China”, any country that wants diplomatic relations with mainland China must break official ties with Taipei. It has resulted in Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation from the international community.

The policy can be traced back to 1949 and the end of the Chinese civil war. The defeated Nationalists, also known as the Kuomintang, retreated to Taiwan and set up their own government while the victorious Communists declared the People’s Republic of China. Both sides said they represented all of China. Since then China’s ruling Communist Party has threatened to use force if Taiwan ever formally declares independence, but it has also pursued a softer diplomatic track with the island in recent years.

Chinese navy marks 70th year of capture of key islands in SCS

  1. What: The Chinese navy on Thursday celebrated the 70th anniversary of the capture of the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea (SCS)
  2. It asserted its claim over the disputed area which it continued to retain brushing aside an international tribunal ruling quashing its claims
  3. China’s claims over almost all of the SCS are contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan
  4. These countries are backed by the United States to assert their claims
  5. However, recently Rodrigo Duterte as President of Philippines has distanced his country from the U.S. and worked out truce with China, putting the SCS dispute on the back-burner


The South China Sea dispute is frequently in the news, in fact a question on it came in this years mains. Understanding the disputes in SCS also helps us to understand India’s actions, such as closer ties with Vietnam. The dispute is being watched closely by everyone, especially given that a new President is coming in the US. Unless the US supports its allies in the region more strongly, we could witness more countries moving closer to China, like the Phillipines.

This conflict is in sharp contrast to the peaceful way in which India and Bangladesh settled their maritime dispute. India had complied with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague ruling in favour of Bangladesh in 2014.

Duterte declares Philippines’ ‘separation from the U.S.’

  1. Event: Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte declared his “separation” from long-standing ally the United States in Beijing
  2. Mr. Duterte is in China for a four-day trip seen as confirming his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing’s sphere of influence
  3. Previously: Under Mr. Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino, the Phillipines and China were at loggerheads over the South China Sea
  4. Beijing has built a series of artificial islands in the sea to claim it
  5. Mr. Duterte has also suspended joint U.S.-Philippine patrols in the strategically vital South China Sea, and has threatened an end to joint military exercises

China to deploy drones over S. China Sea

  1. China plans to deploy its indigenously built drones for surveying and mapping in the disputed South China Sea
  2. They’ll also cover Senkaku islands claimed by both Japan and China in the East China Sea
  3. The drones can fully cover waters 80 nautical miles from the coastline

Discuss: With respect to the South China sea, maritime territorial disputes and rising tension affirm the need for safeguarding maritime security to ensure freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region. In this context, discuss the bilateral issues between India and China. [Mains 2014]

Russian support to China’s rejection of Hague ruling

  1. Ahead of the exercise, Moscow supported China’s rejection of the ruling by Hague arbitration tribunal
  2. The ruling had rejected Beijing’s territorial claims in the SCS
  3. Why? Any arbitration proceedings should be initiated by parties to a dispute while a court of arbitration should hear the arguments and positions of the parties to the dispute
  4. As is known, China did not go the Hague Court of Arbitration and no one there listened to its position. So, how can these rulings be deemed fair?
  5. It is not a political but a purely legal position

Significance of China-Russia joint naval exercise

  1. The exercises signal the possibility of joint military assertion by the China and Russia in the Western Pacific Ocean
  2. It would seriously challenge the U.S.-led Pivot to Asia doctrine of force accumulation in these waters
  3. It has set the stage for a deeper military and political engagement, reinforced by the meeting at Hangzhou between the two heads of state
  4. Russians sending a dual signal: While they are conveying to the United States that they stand by the Chinese, they are at the same time preserving their strategic relationship with Vietnam, which hotly contests Chinese claims in the Spratly islands in the SCS
  5. Need to cooperate: Not just in diplomacy and politics but also in the military as a way to respond to the challenge from the West

China and Russia begin first naval exercises in SCS

  1. The eight-day Joint Sea-2016 exercise is the largest naval drill that the two countries have decided to conduct since their annual naval manoeuvres began in 2012
  2. Chinese state media is signaling that exercises are not being held in a disputed area in the SCS, but within China’s coastal waters

China’s floating nuclear reactor & the South China Sea controversy

  1. China and Russia perfected the art of developing floating nuclear reactors for use by oil rigs or island communities
  2. But China is facing stiff challenges in ascertaining its autonomy over South China Sea from Vietnam and the Philippines
  3. In July 2016, a UN arbitration panel ruled that Beijing’s claim to most of the sea has no legal basis. China rejected the decision on its part.
  4. Other concerns: South China Sea’s seasonal typhoons and the need of replenishing radioactive fuel

Quiet diplomacy by the US on South China Sea dispute

  1. News: The US is using quiet diplomacy to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalise on an international court
  2. The ruling had denied China’s claims to the South China Sea
  3. Aim is to quiet things down so issues can be addressed rationally instead of emotionally
  4. The US doesn’t want a false narrative of it leading a coalition to contain China

South China Sea dispute – a background

  1. Claim of overlapping areas by different countries – involves Brunei, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia
  2. Main dispute over territory and sovereignty over ocean areas, and the Paracels and the Spratlys – 2 island chains claimed in whole or in part by a number of countries
  3. Importance: Estimates of rich natural resources in the islands
  4. Annual revenues that could be generated as the route is a major shipping route and home to fishing grounds
  5. Capital already employed for island-building by the nations

Tribunal rejects China’s claims on South China Sea

  1. News: Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) said that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’ in the South China Sea
  2. PCA also observed that China has violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights
  3. Context: China claims most of the South China Sea, even the waters approaching the neighbouring countries, as its sovereign territory
  4. China bases its arguments on Chinese maps dating back to the 1940s marked with a so-called ‘nine-dash line
  5. Reactions: Philippines, which had lodged the suit against China in 2013, welcomed the ruling
  6. China reacted furiously, saying it neither accepts nor recognises the decision

U.S., Philippines launch joint patrols in South China Sea

  1. Context: US has launched joint South China Sea naval patrols with the Philippines
  2. Why? Escalating its presence as US accused Beijing of ‘militarising’ a region which is locked in territorial disputes
  3. 275 troops and five A-10 ground attack aircraft currently in Philippines for annual war games will remain there temporarily
  4. China: Warned that deployments must not damage regional stability
  5. US: Efforts to strengthen military role in the region are not done in order to provoke
  6. US is responding to regional anxiety over China’s muscular actions in the South China Sea, including building artificial islands over disputed reefs

China warns of intervention if Korean peninsula is destabilised

  1. Context: Rising tensions in the Korean peninsula, along with largest-ever U.S.-South Korea military exercise to be conducted soon
  2. News: China warned of interventions in the Korean peninsula, if its fundamental interests in the region were harmed
  3. Background: The 1953 Armistice insured a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved
  4. Future: China advocated a multi-pronged approach where de-nuclearisation of the peninsula could be combined with signing of a formal peace treaty

China slams the U.S. on South China Sea

  1. News: China has slammed the Pivot to Asia doctrine of the U.S. for growing tensions South China Sea, where a trilateral exercise involving New Delhi, Washington, and Tokyo is scheduled
  2. Chinese official said: It was Washington’s naval build up under the “Pivot to Asia” doctrine, which was the root cause of tensions in the Asia-Pacific
  3. Relevance: US Pivot to Asia enabled Washington to deploy as many as 70 per cent of its naval force in the Asia-Pacific
  4. Context: China claims sovereignty over most of South China Sea, a position that is contested by several countries including Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan

Beijing deploys fighter jets in South China Sea

  1. News: China has deployed fighter jets to the Woody island in the South China Sea to which it also has sent surface-to-air missiles
  2. US intelligence services had spotted Chinese warplanes on Woody Island in the disputed Paracel Islands chain
  3. Woody Island: A disputed island in the South China Sea which is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam
  4. It had an operational airfield since the 1990s but it was upgraded last year

South China Sea tensions surge as China lands plane on artificial island

Increasing military presence in the disputed sea could effectively lead to a Beijing-controlled air defence zone.

  1. South China Sea tensions surge as China lands plane on artificial island.
  2. China’s first landing of a plane on one of its new island runways in the South China Sea.
  3. It shows Beijing’s facilities in the disputed region are being completed on schedule and military flights will inevitably follow.
  4. China has confirmed that a test-flight by a civilian plane landed on an artificial island built in the Spratlys, the first time Beijing has used a runway in the area.
  5. China has been building runways on the artificial islands for over a year, and the plane’s landing was not a surprise.

China rejects U.N. arbitration on disputed South China Sea

The Arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS) established at the request of the Philippines has no jurisdiction over the case.

  1. China’s territorial sovereignty should be decided by all the Chinese people, and no other organisation has right to handle it, said by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
  2. China’s position on the South China Sea stands on a solid international legal base and will remain unchanged.
  3. China claims almost whole of the resource-rich South China Sea (SCS).
  4. Its claim, however, is strongly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

What is 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties?

  1. It was signed between member States of ASEAN and People’s Republic of China.
  2. The essential idea is to enhance favourable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution to differences and disputes among countries concerned.
  3. Peace, peace & more peace in other words!
  4. It seeks to promote a peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment in the South China Sea between ASEAN and China.

What is U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea?

  1. Think of it as a constitution of ocean of sorts.
  2. It divides the ocean waters into 5 categories, viz. internal water, territorial water, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and high seas.
  3. Interestingly, the convention is silent on the international rivers.
  4. It grants full sovereign rights to do oil exploration, mineral exploration and fishing.
  5. In case of overlap of EEZ, the convention seeks to mutually resolve the dispute and demarcate the areas.
  6. This is the bone of contention between China and ASEAN members.

All countries must abide by 2002 declaration on conduct

  1. India expressed its interest and concern at the recent developments in the South China Sea.
  2. It called for an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the region for resolving disputes.
  3. The concerned countries should abide by the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties.
  4. The 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea recognises freedom of navigation in international waters, the right to passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources.

Raja-Mandala: Why Delhi must not be at sea

As they look to diversify security partnerships, Manila and Hanoi would like to see India be more forthcoming with its hard power.


Matter lies in Nine-dash line game of China

  • An international court’s ruling in favour of the Philippines on the maritime territorial dispute with China last week, on Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
  • Under a so-called nine-dash line, China claims almost the whole of South China Sea, dismissing claims to parts of it from Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Does China’s argument really justify its claims ?

  • China’s recent aggressive land reclamation and construction projects on several reefs have spread alarm among its Southeast Asian neighbours.
  • Beijing argues that its expansive claims on the South China Sea are rooted in historical facts and are “indisputable”.

How does Delhi’s Expanding Interest take a fore ?

  • The region has welcomed Delhi’s expanding interest in South China Sea issues in recent years.
  • In January, PM Modi signed a joint vision statement with US President on the shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific littoral stretching from the east coast of Africa to the South China Sea.

Should India play as Hard Power role ?

  • Manila and Hanoi looks to diversify security partnerships and build national capabilities for deterrence against China.
  • It would like to see Delhi be a little more forthcoming with its hard power.
  • Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Manila expressed interest in acquiring Brahmos missiles from India.

Regrettably, Delhi continues to find it rather hard to translate India’s material capabilities into effective instruments for shaping the regional balance of power.

U.S. to keep operating in South China Sea

  1. U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter reaffirmed that the US will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.
  2. Beijing also reiterated its position that the islets are sovereign Chinese territory.
  3. China expressed its displeasure with the presence of guided missile destroyer in the region.

A string of soft pearls

It is becoming clearer that the US has been going about the job of pulling the plug on China with quiet efficiency


What’s the point of contention ?

  • A week ago, the US allowed a warship to travel within 12 nautical miles of the man-made island that China had created in the South China Sea.
  • It was supposed to send a signal that the US did not recognize the sovereignty of China’s island.

US’s concern and response

  • A Pentagon report said that China had reclaimed more than 2,900 acres of land as of June, 17 times more land than the other claimants combined over the past 40 years.
  • It is possible to discern the contours of a possible US response to China taking shape.
  • The US is right to be cautious and gradual in confronting China.

China’s Aspirations for expansion

  • China’s victimhood come in way of its ill-concealed aspiration to occupy the pole position as the sole global superpower.
  • China’s sense of entitlement combined with its victimhood creates a propensity to react disproportionately to any perceived or real threat to its supremacy.

Federal reserve’s Next Move

  • China’s economic growth slowing, it is trying to keep its currency from sliding even as it wishes to cut interest rates to stimulate more borrowing and more investment.
  • If the Federal Reserve raises the federal funds rate in December, China’s capital outflows would resume and the currency would come under pressure.
  • China has considerable short-term external debt that would become a bit costlier to service when interest rates in the US go up.

Geoeconomic and geopolitical developments in 2016 will not be good for the fainthearted.

Philippines standing upto China on the South China Sea conflict

  1. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states.
  2. Countries conflicted – Brunei, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
  3. Bone of contention – Chinese land reclamation projects that have turned a number of previously submerged reefs in the Spratlys archipelago into artificial islands with buildings, runways and wharves.
  4. Philippine has challenged China at the the ICJ.

Questions (attempt in the comments section)


It is said that China’s rejection of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA’s) ruling rebutting Beijing’s claims vis-a-vis the Philippines will have implications far beyond the South China Sea. Discuss. Examine.


Discuss the significance of recent unanimous ruling of an international tribunal at The Hague that China has no legal basis for much of its claims on the South China Sea.


Should India de-escalate conflict in South China Sea or capitalize on it to gain strategic advantage in the region? Critically comment.

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