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What is South China Sea Conflict?

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 17, Jan 2022
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Reference News:-

A new report of the US State Department on the Beijing’s extensive territorial claims of “historic rights” in the South China Sea (SCS) has rejected them as being “plainly inconsistent with international law”.

  • the report concludes that these claims gravely undermine the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally recognised provisions of international law reflected in the convention.

UNCLOS Ruling of 2016:

The Ruling of 2016 was a serious blow to the Chinese claims. It was based on the UNCLOS which China had ratified.

What did it say?

  • The Ruling dismissed Beijing’s claims on the entire area in the nine-dashed-line in the SCS.
  • It clarified the definition of the “islands”. It found that none of the Spratlys- including Itu Aba, Thitu, Spratly Islands, Northeast Cay, and Southwest Cay- are legally islands because they cannot sustain a stable community or independent economic life.
  • The Court also agreed with the Philippines that Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef are rocks. Hughes Reef and Mischief Reef were found to be below water at high-tide, generating no maritime entitlements.
  • The Court also ruled that Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank are submerged and belong to the Philippines’ continental shelf thereby denying any right to China there.
  • Significantly the Court also ruled against the Chinese ‘land-reclamation activity’ stating that this had caused ‘severe harm to the coral reef environment’. This imposed a stricture on China over its land reclamation activity.
  • The Tribunal confirmed that China violated Philippines’ rights in seizing Scarborough Shoal, the 2012 incident that drove Manila to file a suit.
  • It pointed out that China had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank.

Overall issue:

Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with several Southeast Asian states in the South China Sea.

  • China claims almost all of the resource-rich sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
  • Beijing has also been accused of deploying a range of military hardware, including anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles there, and ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over most of the waters to be without basis.

Where is the South China Sea?

  • The South China Sea is an arm of western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia.
  • It is south of China, east & south of Vietnam, west of the Philippines and north of the island of Borneo.
  • It is connected by Taiwan Strait with the East China Sea and by Luzon Strait with the Philippine Sea.
  • Bordering states & territories: the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Strategic Importance:

  • This sea holds tremendous strategic importance for its location as it is the connecting link between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean (Strait of Malacca).
  • According to the United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) one-third of the global shipping passes through it, carrying trillions of trade which makes it a significant geopolitical water body.

Contesting Claims Over Islands:

  • The Paracel Islands are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
  • The Spratly Islands are claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Philippines.
  • The Scarborough Shoal is claimed by the Philippines, China and Taiwan.

Since 2010, China has been converting uninhabited islets into artificial islets to bring it under UNCLOS (For example, Haven Reef, Johnson South Reef and Fiery Cross Reef).