Mighty Politics of South China Sea

By Sarfraz Ahmed Rana.

South China Sea – The cow’s tongue or U-shaped line the most contested area of strategic waters in the world – this is off course not a “Contest of Equals”. Periodically, different phrases have been used to describe “the South China Sea” largely known as eleven-dash line reducing to nine-dash line sometimes the great wall of sands and many others. Eleven-dash line that has been reduced to nine-dash line resulting in an amicable agreement with Hanoi endorsed by Beijing right after the successful Communist revolution in China, merely laying the first brick of their “Charm offensive diplomacy” in the region by settling the dispute.

A nine-dotted line is an unambiguous and lucid demarcation of China’s maritime boundary in the South China Sea by Chinese authorities; what China has been claiming its sole sovereign maritime territory over the years.

South China Sea_Inner Image

South China Sea – The cow’s tongue or U-shaped line the most contested area of strategic waters.

The South China Sea has emerged a “ Flashpoint” in the Asia pacific region  in modern times due to its geostrategic value, natural resources and the parties involved particularly major actors US vis-a-vis China making this area a” high profile politics”.

The South China Sea is a critical commercial gateway for a significant portion of the world’s merchant shipping, and hence is an important economic and strategic sub-region of the Asia-Pacific.

Why does the South China Sea divulge conflict-hotspot?

Robert D. Kaplan has argued in his masterpiece “Asia’s Cauldron” “South China Sea functions as the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean – the mass of connective economic tissue where global sea routes coalesce”.

The excerpt from Kaplan’s book as fully justified U.S. Asia’s Pivot policy vis-à-vis China in regional politics. Since China has come across with its “growing China” image affecting each discourse of world politics slowly and slightly seeks to displace the US position in the Asia-Pacific, relations between China and United stated has been exacerbated sporadically.

In spite of the fact, United States has nothing to dig into South China Sea’s business in terms of any physical claims they look after. However, they are more concerned about freedom of navigation considering their legal and universal right to move around anywhere in the world to the length till international law permits.

In October last year, USS Lassen traveled within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Spratly, which is at the heart of a controversial Chinese island building campaign that has soured ties between Washington and Beijing. China considered this move a serious provocation and immediately summoned the US ambassador to Beijing. Soon after U.S. Lassen violated the waters, situation flared up; however, Chinese foreign office has made clear “China is not afraid of fighting a war against the United States in the South China Sea”.

Similar-style exercise has taken place in late January of this year when U.S. guided-missile destroyer Curtis Wilbur once again sails within 12 nautical miles zone of South China Sea, this time, the reaction by Chinese authorities was more serious. China issued a warning to US that such deliberate provocation further harms US-China relationship and regional security and stability. Meanwhile, China is prepared for worst in order to handle the situation in the South China Sea.

Subsequently, The US secretary of defense Ash Carter reiterated, “We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits”. Although White house released a press after a breach of water to avoid criticism that they have had  the liberty of “innocent passage” in South China sea which opened a plethora of questions that United states has accepted controversial waters to be de facto Chinese territory.

Many believe at this point of friction Washington is testing Chinese response and their military capabilities by carrying such deliberate exercises to gauge Chinese power but some believe that U.S. sending strong signals to China that the US is no leaving region and it will remain there in dealing regional matters as a global power.

Is there brinkmanship on both sides of Politics or it will go beyond?

Doubtlessly, United States has ruled the South China Sea alone for many decades even now Washington is keep pursuing its smart power strategy claiming the U.S. navy is the single greatest contributor to Asia-Pacific – creating stability and assuring security to their partners in the region.

United State has condemned “Gunboat Diplomacy” followed by China in South China Sea on several occasions, rebuffed China to stop building unlawful reef, rocks and Islands in disputed waters.

Moreover, Beijing is not unaware of all whilst keeping an eye of every single move Washington has made in the region. China repeatedly says much of its construction in South China Sea is designed to fulfill its international obligations in terms of maritime safety, search and rescue and scientific research. China has been claiming its peaceful rise amidst China enhancing its PLA navy capabilities, acquiring new Ultra silent submarines and powerful long-range missiles to destroy carriers.

China recently established lighthouse on artificial Islands in South China Sea near which a US warship sailed to challenge China’s territorial claims, merely to consolidate the power in deep waters by maneuvering strategies one after another in a way to counter US presence in Asia Pacific more affectively.

Although China gave a flat refusal to any US involvement in South China Sea’s business any mediation or arbitration will not be accepted by any other extra-regional power. China looks at this issue a domestic issue and prefers to negotiate on a bilateral basis with each involved parties through different regional platforms peacefully. China and other claimant countries have agreed upon to follow a code of conduct and mechanism to avoid a war followed by the China-ASEAN summit.

China will continue its rapid progress in the South China Sea because of the fact that these waters determined Chinese imperative of its national security and the economic lifeline. The chances of full-scale conventional war are rare due to the declining US posture and growing China’s standpoint still war contemplated permanent perennial of world politics.

In evolving multilateral world order, United States has left with limited pawns to win the game especially when it comes to dealing with China will be harder for US policy makers and think tanks to deal with it.

However, South China Sea is certainly an enormously bigger quest of the century cascading all around in uncertainties. Is there brinkmanship on both sides of Politics or it would cause “Mutually Assured Destruction”? Whether US would manage to change the status quo in South China Sea employing strategies, using smart power and by making alliances or it will remain the stronghold of China?

As far as US role in global affairs has concerned; Annexation of Crimea, the Syrian Crisis are self-sufficiently explaining Washington’s relatively diminishing role in global affairs. Of course United States have not achieved what they deemed to achieve even they have kneeled down to kremlin on some core issues.

US is experiencing another hard-core communist state, ideological arch-rival, and political trouble maker in Asia-Pacific. Apparently it is perturbing for US to change the status quo in its own favor vis-à-vis South China Sea and to clip the growing wings of China in the world.

Sarfraz Rana

The writer is the columnist and International relations analyst.

Follow  on twitter: @ranasarfraz3417

2 thoughts on “Mighty Politics of South China Sea

  • April 8, 2016 at 11:48 am
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    A very well written analysis highlighting the international subject on South China Sea and international politics between US and China on it. It’s interesting to know how big nations drive their national interests.

    Reply

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