Chinese Aggressive Behavior In The South China Sea – OpEd


China’s assertive moves in the South China Sea have raised worldwide concerns, given the region’s significance in terms of global trade and natural resources. China’s encroachments on territorial boundaries, clashes in maritime domains, and assertions of sovereignty have resulted in an erosion of confidence in diplomatic endeavors.

This essay examines China’s lack of respect for the sovereignty of neighboring states, the decline in faith in diplomatic efforts, and the necessity of adopting a comprehensive approach that integrates realist pragmatism and idealist values. The intricate network of global diplomatic interactions, legal conflicts, and strategic maneuvers need a cohesive international approach to address and mitigate China’s assertive behavior. China’s unrelenting aggression in the South China Sea represents a clear and present danger to regional stability and global security, necessitating a resolute and coordinated international effort to curtail its expansionist ambitions and preserve the rule of law in this vital maritime region. 

China’s recurrent infringement upon the sovereignty of the Philippines stands as a highly consequential facet of its conduct in the South China Sea. The infringement has exhibited itself in diverse manners, ranging from instances of clashes between Chinese Coast Guard vessels and Filipino fishing vessels to instances of impeding the provision of vital provisions to a military station in the Philippines (Guilfoyle and Chan). The Philippine Secretary of National Defense, Gilberto Teodoro Jr., has highlighted the resemblance of these activities to those commonly associated with a schoolyard bully (Coles). These acts have the potential to erode the sovereignty of the Philippines, pose a risk to marine biodiversity, and jeopardize the livelihoods of Filipino fishermen.

The territorial expansion of China in the South China Sea, including the construction of artificial islands and military outposts, violates Philippine sovereignty and heightens regional tensions. The Chinese disrespect for rival claims from the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan raises questions about China’s commitment to peaceful conflict resolution, posing a direct threat to their security and sovereignty.

China’s actions in the South China Sea have called into question its sincerity in settling the region’s conflicts. While it has undertaken several diplomatic attempts, such as the “Managing Potential Conflict in the South China Sea” workshop, these have not been sufficient to reduce tensions (Hyer). The continuation of confrontational actions, such as the development of the “nine-dash line” and water cannon incidents, demonstrates that China is not sincerely dedicated to finding a peaceful settlement.

The ongoing negotiations between China and ASEAN for a Code of Conduct (COC) have been stalled for nearly two decades, stoking doubts about China’s objectives (McKendry). Despite ASEAN’s calls for a COC to guide dispute resolution, China’s assertiveness has grown greatly throughout this time, undercutting diplomatic efforts’ efficacy. China’s latest revision of its national map to establish control over the majority of the South China Sea demonstrates the country’s reluctance to compromise.

To address China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea, a combination of realist and idealist approaches is necessary. Realist elements involve strengthening the defense capabilities of the affected nations, such as the Philippines, and forming strategic coalitions with external actors like the United States and its allies (Lawson). These actions can act as deterrents to China’s aggressive behavior while protecting the interests of the claimant states.

The idealist approach emphasizes diplomacy and adherence to international law. Diplomatic pressure must be exerted on China to adhere to international norms, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It is essential to continue pushing for the conclusion of a Code of Conduct that can guide dispute resolution in the South China Sea. This approach reflects a commitment to peaceful coexistence and the rule of law.

ASEAN has played an important role in addressing the South China Sea issue, with Southeast Asian claimants such as Brunei opposing China’s claims and emphasizing UNCLOS adherence. However, internal schisms within the organization, particularly among nations with close links to China, have hampered collective action. ASEAN must increase its stance and denounce China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, as well as consider using its economic clout to persuade China to act more responsibly (Rusmuliadi Rusmuliadi). The ASEAN Summit in Jakarta in September 2023 should provide an opportunity for togetherness. However, it failed to resolve the issue at hand.

China’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea may necessitate international engagement by the United States and its allies. The United States has criticized China’s conduct and underlined its commitments under the Philippines’ defense treaty (Shaheen and Ren). If the situation worsens, the US and its allies may be able to prevent China’s aggression while also protecting the interests of impacted nations, ensuring that the South China Sea remains open for global trade and navigation.

A comprehensive response is required to confront China’s aggression in the South China Sea. Diplomatic involvement through multilateral dialogues and dialogue, supporting international law and arbitration institutions, establishing regional alliances, exerting global diplomatic pressure, and leveraging economic interests are all part of this strategy (R.veerasennan and Huda). Prioritizing environmental protection, increasing openness and confidence-building measures, promoting cultural exchanges, and establishing conflict avoidance systems are also critical tasks. Long-term commitment from all parties is critical to maintaining regional peace and stability, protecting the interests of impacted nations, and keeping the South China Sea as a zone of collaboration rather than war (Nguyễn Anh).

China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea endangers regional stability and global trade. The infringement of Philippine sovereignty, concerns about China’s sincerity in settling issues, and the necessity for a mixed realism and idealist approach underscore the issue’s complexities. If China’s hostile behavior continues, ASEAN’s censure and the engagement of the US and its allies may be required. The international community must work together to keep the South China Sea as a site of cooperation and peaceful resolution rather than conflict and tension.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Reference List

  • Coles, Ivan Watson, Rebecca Wright, Helen Regan, Kathleen Magramo, Yasmin. “Exclusive: Philippine Defense Secretary Vows to Stand up to “Bully” China.” CNN, 29 Sept. 2023, Accessed 30 Sept. 2023.
  • Guilfoyle, Douglas, and Edward Sing Yue Chan. “Lawships or Warships? Coast Guards as Agents of (In)Stability in the Pacific and South and East China Sea.” Marine Policy, vol. 140, June 2022, p. 105048, Accessed 26 Apr. 2022.
  • Hyer, Eric. “The South China Sea Disputes: Implications of China’s Earlier Territorial Settlements.” Pacific Affairs, vol. 68, no. 1, 1995, p. 34,
  • Lawson, Stephanie. International Relations. Google Books, John Wiley & Sons, 9 May 2023, Accessed 30 Sept. 2023.
  • McKendry, Clare. “All Is Fair in Law and War, or Is It? Examining the PRC’s Use of “Lawfare” in the South China Sea Disputes.”, 1 Aug. 2023, Accessed 30 Sept. 2023.
  • Nguyễn Anh, Cường. “The South China Sea for China, the United States, and What Choice for Vietnam.” Cogent Social Sciences, vol. 9, no. 1, 25 Apr. 2023,
  • R.veerasennan, Saravanasennan, and Mohd Ikbal Mohd Huda. “AUKUS: A SECURITY PARTNERSHIP in ADDRESSING US – CHINA STRATEGIC COMPETITION in SOUTH CHINA SEA (SCS).” Russian Law Journal, vol. 11, no. 5, 10 July 2023, Accessed 30 Sept. 2023.
  • Rusmuliadi Rusmuliadi. Non-Claimant States Perspectives on the South China Sea Dispute. Vol. 5, no. 1, 31 Mar. 2023, pp. 1–14, Accessed 20 June 2023.
  • Shaheen, Nadia, and Mingchun Ren. “Elevated Strategic Partnership between India and Japan in the Context of the Rising Power of China.” India Review, vol. 22, no. 4, 31 July 2023, pp. 433–462, Accessed 14 Sept. 2023.

Simon Hutagalung

Simon Hutagalung is a retired diplomat from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and received his master's degree in political science and comparative politics from the City University of New York. The opinions expressed in his articles are his own.

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