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South China Sea and Diplomatic Finesse



The South China Sea, a region of immense geopolitical significance, has been embroiled in ongoing tensions due to conflicting territorial claims by multiple countries. Let’s delve into the complexities of this maritime dispute and explore potential paths forward.

 

The fundamental principle governing maritime boundaries is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to UNCLOS:

 

A country’s territorial sea extends 12 nautical miles from its shore.

The exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where a state has exclusive rights over natural resources, extends 200 miles from its coast1.

However, the South China Sea is a hotbed of competing claims, exacerbated by China’s expansive assertion of sovereignty. Here are key points to consider:

 

The Nine-Dash Line

China’s infamous “nine-dash line” encompasses nearly the entire South China Sea, including areas within the EEZs of neighboring countries.

An international tribunal rejected China’s claim in 2016, but China disregarded the ruling.

 

Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Dao)

Located within the Philippines’ EEZ, Scarborough Shoal is controlled by China.

Despite its legal status, China’s presence there remains contentious.

 

Land Reclamation and Military Installations

China has aggressively expanded its presence by reclaiming land on small shoals, reefs, and atolls.

Fiery Cross Reef, once a rock, now hosts a military installation with radar, observation towers, and missile systems. Subi Reef, previously a low tide elevation, has been transformed into a military outpost with a runway.

 

Thitu Island (Pag-asa Island)

Occupied by the Philippines since 1974, Thitu Island is the second-largest naturally formed land feature in the disputed Spratly Islands.

The Philippines recently announced plans to fortify its occupied islands, including Thitu.

 

China’s Defense and US Involvement

China denies militarizing the South China Sea, attributing such actions to the United States.

The US conducts freedom of navigation operations in the region, deploying warships and maintaining bases nearby.

The South China Sea remains a complex and volatile arena. Diplomatic efforts, adherence to international law, and dialogue among claimant states are crucial. Potential steps include:

 

Negotiations and Mediation

Encourage dialogue between claimants to find common ground and resolve disputes peacefully.

International mediation can play a vital role in facilitating negotiations.

Collaborate on resource extraction within overlapping EEZs.

Shared exploitation of fisheries, oil, and gas can foster cooperation.

 

Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures

Enhance transparency regarding military activities and intentions.

Implement confidence-building measures to reduce tensions.

Strengthen regional organizations like ASEAN to promote stability and security.

Encourage joint patrols and information-sharing.

 

The South China Sea’s future hinges on diplomatic finesse, adherence to international norms, and a commitment to peaceful coexistence. The stakes are high, and finding a sustainable resolution is imperative for regional stability.

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