China claims to have indisputable historic rights in the South China Sea (over parcels, spartley islands, Scarborough Shoal and etc.,) defined by nine dash line. Similar counter claims by the littoral states (Indonesia, China, Taiwan, The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei etc.,) and the US involvement, India’s interests in it, underscores the growing importance of geopolitics in shaping the international policy agenda of countries in the Asia Pacific region.
- Longstanding geopolitical issues may flare up: Longstanding issues, including from North Korea, territorial disputes over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea between Japan and China, and cross-strait relations between Taiwan and the mainlandhave the potential to flare up.
- World order: US strong partnership with the Philippines and its policy of big stick, Asia Pivot has led to increased militarization making South China Sea is a geopolitical quagmire.
The main reasons are
- Resources: From oil to fish to general trade access, the South China Sea is an integral part of the growing economic viability of Southeast Asia more generally.
- Fishing rights: Fishing rights are integral to the legitimacy and sovereignty of countries in the region. It has been the main issue for Phillipines, Vietnam, Indonesia.
- Economic interests: US’s Trans Pacific Partnership recently signed that includes many countries within the region. It not means increasing free trade in the region but also undermining Chinese ability to manifest it. Also huge amount of trade especially coal from Austarlia, Indonesia passes through this region
- Navigation route: Acceptance of 9 dash line would be incongruence with EEZ of several countries in the region thus affecting their not only their trade but also impinging on their sovereign rights.
- Strategic location: There is not only increasing militarization but also use of this region for space exploration, due to its strategic location both from the point of economic interests and sovereignty when nations as China as aspiring to be global powers.
Last year ruling by Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that China has no legal basis to claim sovereignty over South China Sea has even led to increase in China’s efforts to expand its influence, thus fundamentally changing the region’s security paradigm. This region holds great interest for India as well not only for its oil and trade but also as a region that links ASEAN countries.