Home Contact Us  

China - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4605, 18 August 2014


South China Sea: Intransigence Over Troubled Waters
Shankari Sundararaman
Chairperson, Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Last week, the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and its dialogue partners gathered at Naypyidaw, Myanmar, for the 47th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting followed by the 21st ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and 4th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meetings (EAS). One of the recurrent aspects of these meetings was the focus on the developments that have shaped the South China Sea (SCS) conflict.  As divergent opinions arise and positions hard-line into deeper divides, the issues relating to the stand-off in the SCS are likely to emerge as the key challenge for the ASEAN countries, particularly in managing their relations and engagement with major powers in the region. 

Almost from 2010, the SCS issue has been at the forefront of the challenges in the wider region. China’s posturing in the region has been increasing with its belligerence at critical intervals to find where the weakest link in the region lies. From April 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident and the July 2012 situation when the ASEAN did not issue a joint communique, till the more recent tirade over China’s installation of the HYSY981 oil rig close to Paracel islands, incidents in the SCS have been major red flags. Chinese posturing in the latest stand-off in May included the moving of its oil rig to what it sees as part of the nine-dash line territorial claims, while Vietnam identifies the Paracels as part of its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). With this latest altercation between China and Vietnam, this issue has emerged as the core of the ASEAN’s challenges.

Much of this is related to the US re-engagement with the region. The US’ interpretation on China’s of China, particularly in light of its own close relations with the Philippines in particular and Southeast Asia in general, critically re-alters the dynamics of the SCS dispute.  The US’ emphasis on its national interest in preserving the rights of freedom of navigation is critical and has been gaining some support over the past four years. Furthermore, smaller ASEAN countries are still trying to engage with regional major powers via different strategies that will allow them to maximise their own interests in the possible event of a stand-off among the bigger powers. 

The US’ recent call for a freeze on China’s construction activities in terms of expansion via dredging clearly indicates the heightened tensions. China has been carrying out these activities particularly in the territories that fall under Beijing’s sovereign claims.  Over the course of last week’s meetings, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, proposed freezing of activities – like seizing uninhabited islands and dredging activities – that change the status quo in the SCS. This found support from the US’ long standing ally in the region – the Philippines.  Simultaneously, other ASEAN countries who are claimants to the dispute have also supported this initiative even though China has not agreed to these demands. 

The ASEAN for its part seems to be divided on the question of the SCS issue where claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam are looking for stronger support within multilateral bodies such as the EAS and the ARF, while other members such as Cambodia and Myanmar simply prefer to keep mum on the matter. Among other ASEAN countries, Indonesia has actively been advocating the need for a more concerted effort to address issues of rival claims to the territorial extents of the SCS. Indonesia supports the move towards a more binding Code of Conduct (CoC) which needs to be addressed, since the decision to have a non-binding Declaration on the Code of Conduct was made in November 2002. 

China for its part has been clear that the move towards a resolution of the SCS issue will be dependent upon the claimant countries and not on the good offices of any outside power. This is clearly seen as targeting the `intent’ of the US. China’s preference for the use of bilateral mechanisms that are in place, instead of using multilateral mechanisms to arrive at a solution, clearly tips its balance towards a more Sino-centric solution to the problem.  Additionally, China has also agreed to negotiation via the ASEAN to effectively resolve the issue, which could indicate its preference for keeping the US outside this debate. 

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s assertions on the need to resolve the matter through the use of international arbitration is critical for the member countries of the ASEAN. The relevance of endorsing a solution that abides by the UNCLOS will critically impact the dispute. China and the US’ varying interpretations on the UNCLOS will have deeper implications for the region. China’s relations with the region – which has, since the 1990s, been carefully built towards greater integration with the ASEAN as a credible partner for its economic growth – should not be held hostage to the growing tensions in the SCS. China’s posturing in the region is a critical factor that has pushed forward the agenda of looking for a credible resolution to this conflict.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015

Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua

Modi in Myanmar: From ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’

The ASEAN's Centrality in the Indo-Pacific Region

Myanmar's Political Transition: Challenges of the 2015 Election

Indonesia: 2014 Presidential Election Explained

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.