Rising Tensions in the East and South China Seas

Conflicts have been a common feature in many parts of the world. These
may be internal conflicts, where different tribes, races, religions or
groups of people within a particular country are in conflict over
different issues or external conflicts pitting countries against each
other. One of the regions that have known long-term and persistent
conflict between countries is the East and South China Sea region in
Asia, where China has been in conflict with its varied neighbors
including Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and possibly
Brunei. These conflicts have been worsened by the increasing political
influence of China, as its claims to resources, access and territory
have resulted in conflict and resistance of varying degrees, as well as
a renegotiation of the international and regional relations. Scholars
have explored the historical background pertaining to the crisis in
South China seas, as well as the pertinent legal issues. While China and
ASEAN states are the key players, the conflict has expansive interest
from outsiders especially the United States. In examining the conflict,
this paper will address varied aspects of the conflict including the
predisposing factors to the conflict, trends, past and present actions
and reactions of the players and the likely implications of the same. In
addition, it examines the effectiveness or impact of treaties, accords
and laws in resolving the conflict. On the same note, it addresses the
most effective solution to the conflict. Going by the opinions of the
varied scholars, it is evident that the conflict can only be resolved
through multilateral partnerships involving all the players and
excluding external states.
Dutton, P (2010). Three dispute and three objectives: China and the
South China Sea. Second International Workshop
Dutton examines the varied aspects of the dispute through three lenses
including sovereignty, jurisdiction and control. He underlines the fact
that China states that the waters and islands are within its sovereign
boundaries mainly on the basis of historical attachments in them.
However, other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines
also had such contacts in the islands, in which case they should also be
considered legitimate claimants of the same. As regards jurisdiction,
China has complicated the disputes via ambiguous claims to authority
over the entire water space located within the nine-dashed line. Within
the lens of control of the water space, the dispute pits China against
the United States alongside other countries that have a stake and
interest in international norms pertaining to navigation freedom for
military purposes.
Dutton suggests that countries should revert to the ancient Tianxia,
where sovereignty would be exercised for the benefit of all nations in
South East Asia. In this case, regional sovereignty should be exercised,
where the regional states exercise authority over the disputed lands
with all other states being excluded. This is because all states
concerned have a historical attachment to the lands.
Valencia, M.J (2011). The South China Sea: Back To Future? Second
International Workshop
The journal article outlines the recent occurrences in the South China
Sea conflict. It indicates that apart from the contentious issues
pertaining to the sovereignty, control and security in the region, the
United States worsened the conflict after it verbally ambushed China and
embarrassed it in front of the Asian audience. This was worsened by the
support that its statement elicited from the Asian countries despite the
agreement that they had with China regarding broaching the subject or
taking a common position. This, however, does not negate the fact that
China has been its worst enemy in the conflict as it has frustrated
varied efforts that would have resolved the issue to its advantage such
as attempts by Malaysia and Vietnam to attach a map that had its
nine-dashed line that gave it a large part of the sea. It also went
ahead to categorise the area as “core interest” claiming
undisputable sovereignty backed by legal and historical claims. These
pushed its foes to the US, which has considered the military growth of
China as a threat to its capacity to project power in the Pacific. A
resolution of the conflict would demand that the countries clarify their
claims based on the UNCLOS, which would legitimize their claims.
Ravindran, M. S (2012). China’s Potential for Economic Coercion in the
South China Sea Disputes: A Comparative Study of the Philippines and
Vietnam. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 31, 3, 105-132
This paper examines the question on the capacity of China, as an
economic power, to impose economic sanctions so as to obtain policy
concession with regard to the dispute in South China Sea. This is
especially considering that there has been an increase in trade and
economic ties between South East Asia and China, which may have given
the later economic leverage over Malaysia and Vietnam and the
Philippines. Nevertheless, Ravindran (2012) states that the Vietnam
surpasses Philippines with regard to vulnerability to such economic
sanctions by the Chinese. This is because China is the largest trading
partner for Vietnam but is ranked third as far as Philippines is
concerned. These sanctions, although they are primarily economic in
nature, also take a political perspective. This is where the Vietnam
vulnerability to economic sanctions would be offset by political
factors, while the same factors would amplify Philippines vulnerability.
Philippines politics and economy are under the control of a powerful
oligarch class on which China would incur less economic cost to impose
sanctions and manipulate.
Thayer, C. A. (2011). Chinese Assertiveness in the South China Sea and
Southeast Asian Responses. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs,
30, 2, 77-104.
This journal article presents a clear outline of the diplomatic behavior
of China and the ASEAN countries after they adopted the Guidelines for
the Implementation of the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South
China Sea. The behavior of China is examined with respect to its
relations with Philippines and Vietnam before and after the adoption.
Thayer (2011) notes that initially, China would interfere with the oil
exploration and commercial fishing activities of the two countries even
though the vessels were operating within their ECZ. This was all in an
effort to assert its claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea.
However, the two countries did not take these efforts lying down.
Vietnam protested the provocations of China through taking varied steps
to defend what it considered its national sovereignty while Philippines
not only enhanced its financing for defense modernization, but also
increased its alliance to the US and lobbied other ASEAN countries.
However, the adoption of the treaty pushed the three countries to
undertake measures that prevented the tension from affecting their
bilateral relations.
Castro, R.C (2012). The Risk of Applying Realpolitik in Resolving the
South China Sea Dispute: Implications on Regional Security. Pacific
Focus, Vol. XXVII, No. 2. 262–289.
This Journal article outlines the realpolitic approach that China has
been using in its claiming the South China Sea territory, as well as the
implications of such approaches. Some of the power tactics that China
has been using in trying to legitimize its claim on the territory
include the use of bilateral approaches that weaken the ASEAN, basing
its claims on historical backgrounds, and reinforcing the capacity of
its naval troops. In addition, it has been trying to create divisions
among the ASEAN Countries, as well as between the countries and the US,
which is its main challenger with interests in the conflict. These
approaches have pushed countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam to
the United States as the only state that has the capacity to challenge
the impunity of China. Castro (2012), notes that the approach has only
increased the probability of a violent conflict between China and its
Asian neighbors.
Snyder, C.A (2011). Security in the South China Sea. The Corbett Centre
for Maritime Policy Studies
Snyder uses this paper to outline the sensitivity of the conflict in the
South China Sea especially considering the region’s strategic
importance. The region contains key sea-lane, not to mention the popular
speculations on the islands sitting on enormous amount of gas and oil.
However, the conflict mainly escalated due to China’s declaration of
the South China Sea as a “Core interest” that is closely tied to its
territorial integrity and sovereignty. The United States, on the other
hand, stated that it would oppose any use of force in the area by any
state as it considers navigation freedom through the area as touching on
its national interests. Snyder notes that any shape that the conflict
takes will determine the relationship between China and the US, as well
as with the other states in the region especially those with which it is
in conflict.
Pham, D (2012). Gone Rogue? China’s Assertiveness in the South China
Sea. Journal of Politics & Society, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 139-164
This journal article examines the motivations behind the increased
assertiveness of China in South China Sea in the last several years.
This assertiveness started after China became unsure of the utility or
sustainability of joint development strategy as the key dispute
resolution strategy. Pham (2012) notes that the increased assertiveness
has resulted from the rapid change in the security environment, thanks
to other claimants’ actions. However, while the maritime modernization
may be aimed at meeting the security threat, the primary motivation may
be the neutralization of US’s presence in the region. The success of
any agreement on the code of conduct of the concerned in diffusing the
conflict would depend on past actions. China, however, despite its
damage control actions with the southern neighbors, would be weakening
its position in case it seeks an accord that seems to undermine its
claims.
Ciorciari, J.D & Weiss, J.C (2012). The Sino-Vietnamese Standoff in the
South China Sea. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
This article puts into perspective the conflict from the lens of China
vs. Vietnam and especially with regard to the measures that both
countries have taken in diffusing the implications of the conflict.
Ciorciari & Weiss, (2012) acknowledge the success of Vietnam in
attracting international support. Its broadcasts, however, have aroused
nationalist movements in its backyard that may jeopardize the negotiated
solution. While the dispute may be submitted to the International Court
of Justice or International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, such a
strategy has never been actualized as China stands to lose the most in
which case it has not made the submission. A violent conflict is
unlikely to result, but small-scale altercations are likely to continue
as the two sides try to appease domestic audiences and obtain stringer
negotiating positions.
Banlaoi, R.C (2012). Philippine Solution to the South China Sea Problem:
More Problems, Less Solutions? International Conference on “Security
Environment Of the Seas in East Asia
This paper outlines the security situation in South China Sea with
emphasis on key incidents that have taken place since 2011. It outlines
the increased assertiveness of the claimants as having made an immense
contribution to the security situation. The assertiveness is seen in
resolute diplomacy, increased development of naval capability, as well
as increased unilateral patrols. It also outlines the provisions of the
Philippine solution, commonly referred to as the Zone of Peace, Freedom,
Friendship and Cooperation (ZoPFFC). However, ZoPFFC was opposed by
China and Malaysia, in which case it did not sail through. This does not
undermine the effectiveness of SoPFFC in addressing core problems
especially considering that all the claimants supported its idea of
joint development. While numerous solutions to the conflict have been
put forward, it is imperative that the parties show strong political
will in compromising, as well as abiding by all accords and
acknowledging their regional interests as a fundamental component of the
national interests.
Tønnesson, S (2012). International Law in the South China Sea: Does it
drive or help resolve conflict? Third International Workshop
This paper underlines the importance of understanding the manner in
which states understand and protect their geopolitical interests, and
the impact of international law on their behavior and claims, in
analyzing territorial conflicts. Tonnesson (2012) states that there are
variations in the interpretations of the same, and examines the manner
in which modifications in international law may have historically
affected the South China Sea conflict. The paper also seeks to outline
the parallel histories of legal developments and fluctuation between
periods of eased tension and conflicts both in treaty-based
international law and customary law with emphasis on laws of the sea. As
much as international law may have the capacity to address some core
issues, it remains inconsequential and cannot be a mechanism for
conflict resolution if the conflicting states do not pay attention to
their legal obligations. On the same note, it may drive conflict
especially where it is ambiguous and raises stakes through giving small
islands the capacity to create extended maritime zones.
Li, M (2011). Reconciling Assertiveness and Cooperation? China’s
Changing Approach to the South China Sea Dispute. Security Challenges,
Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter 2010), pp. 49-68.
This paper underlines the fact that China is the most crucial player in
the South China Sea crisis. It comes up with an analysis and description
of the emerging trends and thoughts in China pertaining to the crisis,
especially the interaction between increased assertiveness and efforts
at cooperative interaction. While considering China’s perspective on
the strategic importance of the area under dispute, and the recent
changes in the policy for the area in China, the author predicts that
China is likely to increase its assertiveness. This is supported by
China’s enhanced naval capabilities and need for energy resources.
Cooley, B (2012). A Sea Change or a Wave of Backlash? The South China
Sea and Changing Power Dynamics in Southeast Asia. Global Security
Studies, Fall 2012, Volume 3, Issue 4
While acknowledging the strategic conflict between the claimants, the
paper acknowledges the involvement of outsiders in the conflict over the
structure of economic and regional security institutions. The stakes in
the dispute have been raised by the prospects of an entirely new
regional hierarchy that has China at the top. The renewed interest by
outsiders has been predicated by the fact that China will be likely to
challenge the U.S hegemony, a feat that has not been attained since the
Cold War. Cooley (2012) predicts that the increasing power of China in
the region will be likely to push other claimants to the U.S corner.
However, if unchecked, China will end up pushing out the United States
from the region, thereby reducing its relevance in the region.
To, L.L (2003). China, the USA and the South China Sea Conflicts.
Security Dialogue vol. 34, no. 1
To (2003) acknowledges that the increasing political power and
assertiveness would be likely to push other claimants of the South China
Sea territories to the United States. The article outlines the strategy
that China would be apt at applying in combating the U.S factor in the
conflict. As much as the United States does not have a direct
involvement in the conflict, it has key concerns pertaining to security.
In fact, it has always insisted that the conflict should be resolved
peacefully, a factor that has shaped China’s strategies in its
campaign to “recover” what it terms as its territory. To (2003)
notes that China has adopted an extremely discreet approach in hiding
its expansive moves especially with the United States in the scene.
However, this is bound to change as its power increases in the long
term. He notes that the military power and surveillance capacity of the
United States are the last resort in preventing the escalation of the
conflict to unacceptable levels.
Hongfang, S (2011). South China Sea Issue in China-ASEAN Relations: An
Alternative Approach to Ease the Tension. International Journal of
ChinSoau tSh tCuhdiineas Sea Issue in China-ASEAN Relations 585 Vol. 2,
No. 3, pp. 585-600
Hongfang (2011) acknowledges the ineffectiveness of past agreements
between China and other claimants in promoting a harmonious and peaceful
environment in the region. The situation is bound to worsen in the
absence of proper strategies of handling the conflict. The paper
outlines the overlapping claims to sovereignty by the different parties
that are claiming the South China Sea waters and islands. All these
countries seek to underline their claims using historical backgrounds,
and international laws among others. The paper examines the reigning
opinions pertaining to mainland China with respect to the issue of
sovereignty, and security. While acknowledging that the United States is
likely to be one of the key victims in the enhanced power of China in
the region, Hongfang (2012) states that the conflict must be resolved
based on bilateral-level negotiations, using joint exploration,
multilateral dialogues, and enhancing partnership between China and
ASEAN countries.
Buszynski, L (2010). Rising Tensions in the South China Sea: Prospects
for a Resolution of the Issue. Security Challenges, Vol. 6, No. 2
(Winter 2010), pp. 85-104.
Buszynski (2010) acknowledges that the conflict in South China Sea has
emanated from the overlapping claims of different states resulting in a
stalemate. The key player is China which has not only laid claim to the
Paracel and Spratly islands but also enhanced its assertiveness in
preventing other claimants such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines
from developing gas and oil from their claim zones. Various strategies
may be used in resolving the conflict including maritime and legal
regimes, and multilateral negotiations. However, as much as the conflict
may be about territory and security, the energy resources are at the
core of the conflict. Buszynski (2010) proposes that the states come up
with a single maritime energy regime that gives both ASEAN and China a
stake in the exploration and consequently the stability (and control) of
the region.
References
Buszynski, L (2010). Rising Tensions in the South China Sea: Prospects
for a Resolution of the Issue. Security Challenges, Vol. 6, No. 2
(Winter 2010), pp. 85-104.
Hongfang, S (2011). South China Sea Issue in China-ASEAN Relations: An
Alternative Approach to Ease the Tension. International Journal of
ChinSoau tSh tCuhdiineas Sea Issue in China-ASEAN Relations 585 Vol. 2,
No. 3, pp. 585-600
To, L.L (2003). China, the USA and the South China Sea Conflicts.
Security Dialogue vol. 34, no. 1
Cooley, B (2012). A Sea Change or a Wave of Backlash? The South China
Sea and Changing Power Dynamics in Southeast Asia. Global Security
Studies, Fall 2012, Volume 3, Issue 4
Li, M (2011). Reconciling Assertiveness and Cooperation? China’s
Changing Approach to the South China Sea Dispute. Security Challenges,
Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter 2010), pp. 49-68.
Tønnesson, S (2012). International Law in the South China Sea: Does it
drive or help resolve conflict? Third International Workshop
Banlaoi, R.C (2012). Philippine Solution to the South China Sea Problem:
More Problems, Less Solutions? International Conference on “Security
Environment Of the Seas in East Asia
Ciorciari, J.D & Weiss, J.C (2012). The Sino-Vietnamese Standoff in the
South China Sea. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
Pham, D (2012). Gone Rogue? China’s Assertiveness in the South China
Sea. Journal of Politics & Society, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 139-164
Snyder, C.A (2011). Security in the South China Sea. The Corbett Centre
for Maritime Policy Studies
Thayer, C. A. (2011). Chinese Assertiveness in the South China Sea and
Southeast Asian Responses. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs,
30, 2, 77-104.
Castro, R.C (2012). The Risk of Applying Realpolitik in Resolving the
South China Sea Dispute: Implications on Regional Security. Pacific
Focus, Vol. XXVII, No. 2. 262–289.
Ravindran, M. S (2012). China’s Potential for Economic Coercion in the
South China Sea Disputes: A Comparative Study of the Philippines and
Vietnam. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 31, 3, 105-132
Dutton, P (2010). Three dispute and three objectives: China and the
South China Sea. Second International Workshop
Valencia, M.J (2011). The South China Sea: Back To Future? Second
International Workshop
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