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Impasse between China and other claimant states

Discuss about the Empirical Analysis of Claimant Tactics.

The South China Sea is a part of the Pacific Ocean which covers an area of 35, 00,000 square kilometer. The area ranges from Karimata and Malacca Straits on one end to Straits of Taiwan on the other. This particular sea has strategic significance as it is responsible for passing 1/3rd of the world’s shipping with more than $3 trillion trade every year. It also consists of lucrative fisheries every year that are an essential part of food security for millions of people in the South East Asian region. It is believed that there are large oil and gas reserves underneath this seabed. The exact location of this particular sea, according to International Hydrographic Organization is, south of China, west of the Phillipines, east of Vietnam and Malay peninsula and Sumatra which goes up to the Strait of Singapore in the western part and finally the north of Bangka Belitung Islands and Borneo (Saha 2015).

Later, it was proposed by IHO that Natuna Sea or the southern boundary of the South China Sea will be shifted towards north from the north of Bangka Belitung islands to the north and northeastern side of Natuna islands. The South China Sea Islands can be considered as an archipelago which is almost calculated in hundreds.  Most of the islands in the sea is uninhabited and are subject to competing claims of independence by a number of countries. All these claims can be portrayed by different names that are used for the islands and the sea. The states and the territories that are bordered along the sea include the People’s Republic of China which includes Macau and Hong Kong; the Republic of China including Taiwan; Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. The rivers that flow into this sea include Pasig, Pahang, Pampanga, Mekong, Jiulong, Rajang, Red, Min and Pearl. The South China Sea is situated on a drowned continental shelf and in the recent ice ages the global sea level got lower by hundreds of meters and thus Borneo became a part of the Asian mainland (Chan and Li 2015).

The South China Sea disputes include both islands and also the marine claims in the seven independent states within the region such as Brunei, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. Approximately US$5 trillion worth of international trade is passed through the South China Sea apart from those non- applicant states that wish the sea to remain as international waters. To campaign on this, numerous states such as the US had conducted an operation known as the ‘freedom of navigation’. The dispute regarding the South China Sea included a number of island, banks, reefs and other features such as Spratly islands, Paracel islands and other boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin (Hong 2013). The other disputes were related to the waters of Indonesian Natuna Islands which is controversial as it might not be regarded as a part of the South China Sea. The applicant states are interested to achieve the rights of the fishing areas, the discovery and the possible utilization of the natural gas and crude oil underneath the different parts of the South China Sea and the tactical control of significant shipping lanes. The disputes regarding the South China Sea include both the marine boundaries and the islands. The several disputes and the countries involved with them are given in the picture below.

Chronological Timeline

The nine dash line area was claimed by the Republic of China at first and then by the People’s Republic of China which covers an entire area of the South China Sea and the limited economic zone of the claimed areas mentioned in the picture. The marine boundary in the Vietnamese coast situated in between the People’s Republic of China, Brunei, Taiwan, Philippines and Malaysia. Marine boundary in the northern Borneo include the similar states as Vietnamese coast and the other features in the sea include the Paracel islands, Pratas islands and more in between the states mentioned above. Nautical boundaries along the northern natuna islands and the Palawan and Luzon are included between the PRC, Indonesia, Taiwan and Philippines. Finally the marine and terrestrial boundary in the Sabah and Luzon strait include PRC, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Taiwan (Kaplan 2014).

The South China Sea disputes can be traced back to 1951 which evolved as a result of the San Francisco Treaty. This agreement was unsuccessful in specifying the possession of the Spratly islands when Japan had to lose its title after they got defeated in the Second World War. An important aspect of the territorial dispute that has been long evolved regarding the South China Sea is concerned about the construction in the specific area over the past few years. This has been occurred because of China’s involvement in the huge recuperation of land activities in the seven reefs namely Fiery Cross, Johnson South, Subi, Mischief, Hughes, Gaven and Cuartern reef in the controversial Spratly islands of the South China Sea. The projects have given rise to seven new artificial land masses in the island of Spratly such as massive island- building. China has claimed that the undeniable independence over the islands of South China Sea and the authority over the waters alongside are constant with the maps which showed the area of South China Sea and almost the total of Spratly islands (Lee 2017).

The dispute has been considered as an impasse between China and the other claimant states because China has declared power over the entire South China Sea. It has forcefully tried to strengthen its capture by transforming seven almost submersible reefs into islands with runways, radars and weapon systems. The country has claimed that the artificial islands serve the purpose of the civilian and the safety of ships but it will not intervene in the freedom of routing or over air travel. This activity is opposed by the other claimant states and also the United States. This is because these places are suspicious of the limitations on the movement of ships in the prime waterway for international trade and business (Gao and Jia 2013).

The issue has taken place because the Paracels islands are claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan although it is captured by China. These three areas are also willing to take over Spratley islands which are situated towards south.

The South China Sea dispute has started a long time back. Following is the chronological order how the dispute had taken shape gradually.




China had differentiated the South China Sea with a territorial statement of ‘U’ shaped line which is made up of 11 dashes in the map and covering a large area. The communist party which gained controls soon after, in 1949, eliminated the part of Gulf of Tonkin in the year 1953 by deleting the two dashes and made it a nine- dash line (Schofield, Sumaila and Cheung 2016).


The 1982 UN convention on the Law of the Sea which let Philippines take settlement of China becomes effective after the approval of 60 countries. According to this agreement, the territorial waters are defined along with the continental shelves and the special economic zones. Although Philippines had joined the convention in 1984 and China after 12 years, but US did not sanction it.


China too over the disputed Mischief reef to build huts for providing shelter to the fishermen and Philippines had complained against it.


Philippines naval ship prevented the Chinese boats to enter Scarborough Shoal which further raised a protest. Moreover, the Chinese fishermen were confined by Philippines accused of illegal fishing (Holmes and Phillips 2016). 


China had submitted the nine- dash line map to the UN mentioning about the undeniable power over the islands and the waters alongside which again received a protest.


Philippines protested against the harassment of their ship by two Chinese patrol boats.


Philippines vessel stopped a Chinese boat from inspection and china took control over Scarborough Shoal.


The dispute between China and Philippines is brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague which offended Beijing.


China’s top envoy was called to protest against what they said which was ignored and called undeniable. China further delivered a position paper contradicting that the board does not have any influence on the case (Buszynski and Roberts 2014).


The board claimed that it has power over 7 of the 15 claims raised by Philippines.

12th July, 2016

The board stated that China has no authority to claim so much form the sea which was accepted by Philippines and rejected by China.

The South East Asian nations failed to give their consent on the marine disputes regarding the South China Sea. This happened after Cambodia blocked any kind of statement to an international court which ruled against Beijing. The foreign ministers of the of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) came together for the first time since the Permanent Court of Arbitration offered a compassionate legal victory to the Philippines in the dispute. The court had denied the clear claims of China in the planned seaway which passes $5 trillion of international trade each year. Although China claimed most of the sea but there were protesting claims from the rival states of ASEAN (Amer 2014). Beijing protested by mentioning that the verdict was not based on the rights over the sea and the case was a sham. Both Philippines and Vietnam wished the communiqué to be issued by the foreign ministers of ASEAN to refer to the verdict and the necessity for respecting the international law.

Cambodia, the closest ASEAN supporter of China went against the proposed statement and left the group in dismay. Although Indonesia’s foreign minister hoped that some solution will come out of the meeting but Cambodia’s foreign minister had kept mum on the position of his country. Even the stalwarts of the meeting were unable to find a compromise on the issue. Philippines on one hand wanted ASEAN to resist Beijing’s persistence that the issue should be handled on a two- way level (Beckman 2013). The officials of the ASEAN had said that the two countries wanted the joint statement to involve orientation to the territorial controversy with China. The Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong said that all the ASEAN members were equally responsible for being unsuccessful in delivering a statement. US had forced on the neutral lengthy naval controversy in spite of offering aid to encourage the frail military forces of Philippines.

The South China Sea is the centre of conflict between China and the claimed states of ASEAN, specially Philippines and Vietnam. The construction of huts on the man- made islands by China and the use of anti craft and anti missile systems have given rise to anxiety resulting in the militarization of rival declaration by other states. The political impasse between China and the ASEAN member countries has made the situation almost predictable. Although there is restriction on the number of claims, the dispute regarding the South China Sea has a much larger effect for the security peace and stability of the waters as well as the whole region. A considerable amount of national interests has been claimed by US in the sea with specific mention of freedom of navigation along with respect for international law although it is not a part of the UN Convention on the law of the Sea. The issue with the freedom of navigation is still controversial between US and China over the control to operate in the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ as claimed by China (Yahuda 2013).

There were complexities in the issue because these were related to the contest for natural resources, nationalism, autonomy, geopolitics and historical legacies. It became difficult to mitigate the issue because every member is not at all ready to surrender any of its claims in front of a probable domestic repercussion. The controversy is responsible for threatening regional stability as the members especially China are increasingly aggressive. The result of this extensive controversy has made China get the name of ‘troubled waters’. It can be argued that the South China Sea has revolved as the most prominent and demanding foreign policy dilemma for Cambodia. Being a non- claimant state, Cambodia is not directly related to the issue of South China Sea, but it has very much relevant to the country as a member of the ASEAN (Thayer 2013).

The division within the ASEAN member countries was displayed at large in the meeting with non- ASEAN dialogue partners in Laos. It can be simply stated as the Chinese were interested in a divided ASEAN. They had developed from the Cold War as a powerful influence in Indochina, especially on Cambodia. Even in the discussion for a final communiqué, Cambodia was least interested in making any mention of China in the South China Sea. The fact is disclosed to release such a statement and the effect of development on the reliability of the ASEAN cannot be neglected (Dolven et al. 2015).

The dispute regarding South China Sea is a striking threat to the ASEAN as a regional organization. It posed to be a challenge in the ability to deal with regional militarization, economic benefits of the member states, safety of the fishermen of the ASEAN countries and protecting the coastal environment of the Southeast Asia. Not only has the disunity of ASEAN played a role in the confrontation of China but also the crisis of ASEAN as a regional organization. The dispute reveals a basic confusion in between combination and securing of national integrity. Therefore it can be considered that the Chinese efforts are not the only factor behind the failure of ASEAN by dividing them. There are different factors at the state, international and the organizational level responsible for the ASEAN division.

An acceptable framework of a regional code of conduct between the ASEAN and China do not pay attention to the fact of its legal binding or any other critical issues. The framework includes the document of a set of rules to guide the members and promote naval cooperation in the controversial sea. The framework was considered as a prominent step towards the attainment of a regional code of conduct to lessen the stress in the South China Sea (Yung and McNulty 2015). ASEAN remained in the position for a long time to make the code of conduct legal but China went against it. It is not assured what implication it will have on the upcoming efforts of both the members to confer the code. This code could have prevented the contradictory defensive claims turning into a major conflict but it remained stuck on the verge of finalizing for fifteen long years.

In the recent years, China has grown as an economically stable country. The reason is the heavy Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) that has been made by the country in the recent times. The past year has seen the improvement in the Chinese economy and catapulted China as the third largest country of FDI recipient in the worlds. According to Salike (2016), China has attracted US$139 billion of FDI in the last year. This can be an influencing factor for the countries involved as ASEAN members. The fact that China had a history of declining GDP growth, the accumulation of a huge FDI can help in the economic stability of the country.

It can also be said that the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have contributed to the growth of the nation. The development of finances in the country has led China to expand in the overseas infrastructure (Emmers 2014). 57 countries all around the world, including countries from the ASEAN, have signed up in the hopes of becoming funding the members of the AIIB. This has resulted in complementing the multilateral financial institutions. The collaboration with the World Bank has made it possible for the affected people to file complaints in the case of any financial problems. Thus, the countries associated as ASEAN members are also benefited in terms of growth in the economy and creating opportunities for expansion in the global market.

Apart from the AIIB, another initiative that is the One Belt One Road (OBOR) is also a contributing factor for the development of infrastructure in China as well as in the ASEAN member countries (Yalta 2013). Countries involved in the OBOR project have already gained benefits that have led to the development of the economy. The interconnectivity with countries in Europe, Middle East and Africa can result in the growth of the economy. Hence, FDI, AIIB and OBOR have played a pivotal role in the growth of China and the member countries involved with ASEAN. Projects worth $500 billion were announced in 2016 that involved several infrastructure sectors from all over the world.

It has been seen that most of ASEAN countries have been divided by China in terms of gaining power in the economy. This has happened due to the emergence of various initiatives that have led to the growth of the economy of the regions. The centrality of the situation is that ASEAN needs to be the primary driving force that may shape the external relation of the groups in terms of architecture that remains open and transparent. According to Henderson (2014), centrality is an outcome rather than a factor to run into. The united effort from the members of the ASEAN countries has contributed to the increase of the economy and consequently in the improvement of China.

Most countries involved in ASEAN have displayed the use of the improvement in a negative manner. Countries like Vietnam have involved itself in a war like situations against superpower nations. Hence, such acts have resulted in the display of muscles from the Asian countries and have resulted in the division between the members in the countries of ASEAN. Leifer (2013) stated that the responsibilities of the ASEAN countries are to protect the economy of the nations and therefore, it is required that some of the powerful nations involved with ASEAN display their abilities. During the 30th ASEAN summit held in Manila, the importance of maintaining peace, security and freedom of navigation had been imposed upon by the chairman.

This resulted in the rise of positive powers that have been the result of the increased FDI and other initiatives such as OBOR and AIIB. With the application of these initiatives and investments made in order to protect the countries, it is necessary that the ASEAN countries maintain a balance in the exercise of the powers. The foreign investments that are carried out by the countries result in the expansion and growth of the economy of the countries. This is mainly done with the expansion of business across countries in order to benefit the economy of the host country as well as the economy of the visiting country (Heydarian and Vu 2015). 


The concept of ASEAN centrality and unity had been a topic of discussion for a long time in the multilateral organization. There lies a underlying theme in the ability of ASEAN to mould and motivate the decisions which can affect the organization and its members to bring out a probable solution. The dispute regarding the sea is such an issue where the ASEAN members have been unable to come to a solution. The reasons behind this can range from narrow national interests to larger foreign policy orientations. These flaws on the part of the ASEAN organizations are forced to be utilized by hegemonic and regal power such as China who continued to increase its main interests and reform the status quo.

From this assignment it can be considered that by 2030 ASEAN should evolve into an authentic borderless economic community because the members understand that the totality is better than the addition of bits and parts. But they must not reshape them as a bureaucratic organization or anything similar to European Union. There is a need for the group to gear up and become strong in its institutional structure. This will help them to preserve internal consistency and operate the newly created markets. In this way, they must not lose their practicality and elasticity. Therefore, an original borderless ASEAN economic community by 2030 will practically exist between Asia Economic Community and European Union. There will be long term economic aspirations with challenges and policy options but it can be recovered. If the organization uses proper policy mix then they can penetrate a highly developing scenario with a tripling of per capita income. Thus, the quality of life of the citizens will also go up to a level similar to the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.


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