Undoubtedly, the People’s Republic of China is the strongest nation among all the claimant countries of the South China Sea
In recent past the region of South China Sea has emerged as the hot spot of Asian continent because at any moment it can escalate into struggle among the contending nations. In South China Sea there are two types of dispute-one is related to their maritime boundaries while the other is of islands. Sometimes they refuse to accept each other’s maritime boundaries and often their claim on islands also overlap that enhances the possibility of a clash. On more than ten islands their interests collide and as such they claim for the part of territory which has led to bloody war in the past for example, between China and Vietnam in the year 1974 and 1988. However, as per history France had major influence in the area in 1930s followed by Japan during the Second World War. In fact, the Japanese empire made use of the inlands in South China Sea for military purposes and it also disclosed that none had claimed when Japan took control over the island. But after the War, Japan had to relinquish its control over the island in 1951 following the Treaty of Sana Francisco. Withdrawal of Japan from the South China Sea was followed by the Chinese claim over a large part of the island in 1951 even during the treaty negotiations and thereafter in 1958 at the First Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Expansion of Chinese territory in South China Sea
Originally, the first indication of Chinese claim on the islands of South China Sea was given by the Kuomintang Government of the People’s Republic of China in the year 1947, delineated in part by eleven-dashed-line. In October 1949, when the Communist Party of China took over the administration of mainland China and organized the People’s Republic of China, it revised the earlier eleven to nine-dots under the leadership of Zhou Enlai which found an authoritative declaration in 1958. As claimed by several Chinese officials and the military personnel the nine-dotted lines also support the historical facts. In line another development took place in 1954. It was the Geneva Accords which ended the First Indo china War and also gave South Vietnam control of the territories, south of the 17thparallel, which included the islands in the Parcels and Spratlys. Two years later the South Vietnam disclosed the fact that the PRC is the lawful claimant of the island and took over the control of the Paracel islands. But China took the benefit of the situation in 1974 when South Vietnam was defeated in the war from North Vietnam. Beijing attacked on the Paracel islands and also took Yagong island along with Crescent group of reefs from South Vietnam. The PRC took Paracel Island because it did not want it to have under the control of North Vietnam. In the war between the two Vietnams, the USSRwas on the side of North Vietnam, and China to prevent a Russian dominance in South China Sea also took additional islands. Earlier in the year 1969 China had fought a war with the USSR on border issue and now it preferred a Russia- free South China Sea. In global politics it was the phase of détente and the USA had promised China not to interfere in the matter thatenabled People’s Liberation Army Navy to take control of the South Vietnamese islands.
Further expansion and peace effort
The nine- dotted lines portion of the PRC and specially the Spratly was claimed by the Philippines and Malaysia in the later half of the 1970s and demanded their inclusion. In a further developmentFerdinand Marcos, the President of the Philippines also issued Presidential decreeNo.1596 which declared western part of the Spratlys as the territory of Philippines. But it did not stop China to expand its number of islands in the South China Sea. In line, the PRC fought with Vietnam near the Johnson Reef in 1988 and after the war it took control of the territory. To harm the Philippines, in 1994, the People’s Republic of China occupied Mischief Reef, about some 250 kilometers away from the Philippines coast. The place was marked earlier in the latter half of the 1970s when Philippines claimed on the island. For a long time at least since the middle of 1990s there has not been any change in the South China Sea where China controls most parts of the Spratly and Paracel islands. In the Paracel China controls almost all the features, while in Spratlys Vietnam controls the greatest number 29, Philippines 8, Malaysia 5, the PRC 5, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) 1, however, the balance in the island has moved in favour of China since 2013 when Beijing started its activities in the island.
Keeping in view the frequent clashes and territorial disputes in the South China Sea islands, the countries of the region such as China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam in the year 2011 agreed to follow a set of preliminary guidelines on the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). It was an important document for resolving the disputes as accepted in the draft. It would cover a wide range of subjects such as marine environmental protection, scientific research, safety of navigation and communication, search and rescue and combating transnational crimes. Consultations on the draft of the document are actively advancing and likely to be completed by 2021.
Objectives of Chinese policy
Undoubtedly, the People’s Republic of China is the strongest nation amongall the claimant countries of the South China Sea.In the context, China has made it clear to the United States of America in spring 2010, that like Taiwan and Tibet the region of South China Sea is an area of China’s core interest and therefore it is also ‘non-negotiable’. In the very next year 2011, through an editorial in the ‘Global Times’, a daily newspaper, published by the Communist Party People’s Daily group wrote under the heading, ‘Don’t take peaceful approach for granted’. In the article referring the earlier incidents in course of the fishing the PRC threatened Philippines and South Korea not to disturb its way otherwise they should be ready to hear the sounds of cannons. It also said further that China is ready to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea. Having its position strengthened in the South China Sea, the PRC has carried out land reclamation in the area between 2013 – 2018, it has completed three airports at Meiji Reef, Zhubi Reef and Yongshu Reef which are very important for Chinese purposes. In a fresh threat, in August 2019 the strongest leader of China Xi Jinping has told Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte that China would not recognize or abide by any arbitration decision. It is the latest Chinese policy in the South China Sea region as declared in a White Paper titled ‘China’s National Defense in the New Era’ published in July 2019, narrating China’s armed strength and its repeated deployment in the South China Sea.
(Author is Professor and Head, University Department of Political Science, B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar)