India watching closely as China ups ante in South China Sea

China has upped its ante recently in the South China Sea. It is bound to have repercussions in global politics. And needless to say, India is watching the developments very keenly.

The Chinese Navy carried out ‘live firing drills’ in the South China Sea on 28 July, 2015 in an apparent show of strength. The drills saw over 100 naval ships, several aircraft, missile launch battalions of the Second Artillery Corps, information warfare troops as well as a nuclear force.

China has recently been very active in the South China Sea which has rightly irked many countries around the area.

To the uninitiated, South China sea is part of the Pacific Ocean extending to an area of about 35,00,000 square kilometers. This area assumes importance due to the fact that a third of the world’s shipping transiting takes place through this area and it reportedly holds under its seabed vast oil and gas reserves.

Various countries around the area believe that they too have a stake in the South China Sea. The South China Sea Islands collectively number in hundreds and the claims by the surrounding nations is evident in the names given to the islands and the sea.

The territorial claims made by these competing countries over the South China sea poses a grave threat to the peace in the region with China flexing its muscle every now and then in a bid to send a message to other countries in the area that it owns the South China Sea. Important countries, other than China that stake claim in the South China Sea, include Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

 India watching closely as China ups ante in South China Sea

File photo. Reuters

The South China Sea dispute is seen as an issue that has the potential to ignite a dangerous conflict in the area, possibly a global one. Very concerned, the then US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in July 2010, had called urged Beijing to resolve this long-standing territorial dispute to which China snubbed and instead asked the US to mind its own business and keep out of the region.

The primary motive of China to be so very enthusiastic in asserting its right over the South China Sea is attributed to the wealth of unexploited minerals, oil and gas lying beneath the sea in addition to the enormous fisheries that is available in these waters. Not surprisingly, therefore, every country in the area has been in confrontation with the Chinese in connection with the South China Sea.

China also sees its dominance in the South China Sea being directly connected with its security as this will allow its presence in the area and also help in securing sea lanes to the open Pacific. The US position is diametrically opposed to the Chinese.

China lays its claim over 90 percent of the South China Sea with the others also claiming parts of the region which sees about five trillion dollars of trade passing through it every year. Also, reportedly, 50 percent of the global oil tanker shipments pass through the region and is considered one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Meanwhile China has plans to begin a second cruise ship service to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea with an intention to boost its tourism industry, which would definitely not go well with Vietnam, which considers the Islands as its own.

There have been violent clashes between China and Vietnam as seen last year, triggered by the increasing territorial conflicts which resulted in anti-China protests in various parts of Vietnam after disagreements erupted between the local Vietnamese and the Chinese expats living in Vietnam.

The dispute primarily centered around a decision by China to build an oil rig within Vietnam’s economic zone near the Paracels which was exclusive to Vietnam. Recently, Vietnam sought to acquire Western fighter jets and drones in a bid to upgrade its air defences which is seen as a tough stance on Vietnam’s part vis-à-vis the South China Sea.

The Chinese overtures in the South China Sea have indeed got Japan and the US thinking. The recent announcement by Japan’s top military commander of a possible Japan-US joint patrol in the South China Sea is seen as an effort to warn China to not misadventure.

Japan views Chinese dominance in the South China Sea as a serious threat to its security and feels that due to lack of transparency, there is concern about China’s action. This concern of Japan is justified as in recent months China has built about 2000 acres of artificial land over the reefs in the disputed Spartly Island chain of the South China Sea.

Philippines, another country claiming to have a stake in the South China Sea also is not keeping quite. Philippine troops recently conducted drills in the area along with the Americans. The US and the Philippines also signed a new defence agreement last year.

Not far behind is Malaysia which has expressed its intention to formally protest Chinese incursions into its 200-mile exclusive economic zone including anchoring of a Chinese coast guard vessel in the Malaysia’s Luconia Shoals.

It is seen as a change in stance of Malaysia, which earlier has been turning a blind eye to Chinese patrols near its James Shoals that falls within its exclusive economic zone and believe that situation for a show-down with China on the one side and the rest on the other is brewing.

It will be interesting to see how China manages to stay calm amidst an army of small nations charging at it with tacit approval of the US. China may not want to get into any serious long-term conflict leading to disharmony and disruption of peace given its aim to be seen as the only power in Asia Pacific region with India also reaching out to these countries to assert its dominance in a friendly way.

Updated Date: Jul 31, 2015 12:32:13 IST