By Dr Subhash Kapila
China with its illegal occupation of Paracels and Spratly Islands followed by conflict escalation in enlarging its military control over the entire South China Sea expanse by wholesale construction of military facilities on artificial islands on reclaimed coral reefs poses a serious threat to Indo Pacific and global security and that merits an international response.
China’s unbridled military adventurism in the South China Sea stands fomented by the asymmetric power differentials that it enjoys in relation to Vietnam and the Philippines as the main disputants. China further stood emboldened by the ambiguous stances of the United States perceived as the ‘nett-provider of security ‘in Indo-Pacific Asia in not being able to respond firmly to check-mate China in its expansionist blueprint in this disputed maritime expanse.
The United States, its allies and its close partners harping exclusively on the principles of ‘freedom of navigation’ through ‘global commons’ does not instil much respect and recognition in China’s one-track mindset of achieving an all-spectrum maritime domination and control over the entire South China Sea as a prelude to China’s complete mastery over the entire Western Pacific. When did Communist China ever since its emergence in late 1949 ever exhibit any respect for international principles?
Future perspectives on the South China Sea conflict resolution do not offer any promising optimism on the horizon. On the contrary, the perspectives all suggest that China’s intransigence over this conflict would see an enhancement. The year 2016 could see more of it with the United States preoccupied with Presidential Elections year politics and the following two years of the new US President engrossed in settling down.
The crucial major questions that surface in light of China’s defiance of international opinion over its evident strategic blueprint of converting the South China Sea into an ‘Inland China Sea’ are (1) Is the United States even in a belated attempt to checkmate China’s strategic designs is capable or inclined to do so single-handedly? (2) Are regional countries like Japan and India as an Asian-indigenous coalition is able to challenge and deter China from its conflict escalation in the South China Sea? (3) Is China deterred by the US-Japan-India Trilateral or the US-Japan-Australia-India Quadrilateral?
The answer to all of the above three questions is in the negative. Does it follow that like Hitler was left to rampage all over Europe in the run-up to the Second World War after the Munich appeasement in 1938, China could also be left to rampage all over the South China Sea maritime expanse by United States’ China-appeasement policies and thereby endangering regional and global peace and security?
The South China Sea is not just an Indo-Pacific security conflict issue but embraces the entire global community which has sizeable and legitimate stakes in the status-quo ante of the South China Sea in light of the massive economic data that stands released on the economic significance of the South China Sea as a ‘global commons ‘and not under Chinese military control as an Inland Sea of China.
Maintained in all my writings since 2001 is that China is intent on generating a Cold War II in the Indo Pacific and we are seeing its full manifestations in 2016 where China is intent on dictating its own terms on the South China Sea conflict, which amounts to the regional and the global community acquiescing to China’s sovereignty and full-spectrum dominance over what it perceives as China’s Inland Sea and all the maritime connotations that go along with it.
The United States and the global community need to pay heed to the lessons for the outbreak of the Second World War and craft appropriate responses to China’s imperialistic designs. Short of another global war to enforce the writ of a rules-based international order and to pre-empt a possible nuclear holocaust that would not be an improbability, the answer lies in the convening of a ‘Geneva- Model’ International Conference to enforce the writ of the global community in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea expanse.
China can be expected to oppose this concept fiercely going by its past stances on this conflict and use its UN-Veto should this International Conference be convened under a UN mandate. But the vital question is that what the United Nations does when one of its own Security Council Permanent Member is the aggressor and endangering peace and security? China could possibly bank on support from its strategic-nexus ally on this issue. A vital issue in this direction would also be ASEAN Community as the most-affected region exhibiting ASEAN-unity fully and asking for a Geneva-model International Conference.as part of an international conflict resolution process.
Many proposals can be considered by the Geneva-model South China Sea International Conference which could sequentially incorporate International Navies Maritime Patrols on-station in the South China Sea and followed by the demilitarisation of islands/artificial islands hosting Chinese military garrisons. China should also be prohibited from establishing a Chinese ADIZ over the South China Sea.
With China not amenable to conflict resolution processes on the South China Sea, the global community may have to take what in legal terms is termed as an ‘ex-parte’ decision
Concluding, it needs to be emphasized that it will be a Herculean task to bring around China to any global International Conference for conflict-resolution on the South China Sea. The alternative to a rules-based international order is military anarchy as was indulged by Hitler’s Germany. It is time that the United States takes a lead in this direction amply supported by the European Union, ASEAN and major countries like Japan and India. Being a Superpower has its strategic costs and the United States should be ready and is expected widely to pay those costs.