Contention over South China Sea

Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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]

Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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
Contention over South China Sea

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.
Contention over South China Sea

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.
Contention over South China Sea

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.
Contention over South China Sea

Raja-Mandala: Why Delhi must not be at seaop-ed snap

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.

Contention over South China Sea

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.
Contention over South China Sea

A string of soft pearlsop-ed snap

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.

Contention over South China Sea

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.
  • 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.


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