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Geo-Strategic Significance And Importance Of South China Sea For China, Vietnam And Philippines – Analysis

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The South China Sea is the biggest Sea in Pacific Region and it place on third in the world after Mediterranean Sea and Caribbean Sea. Its floor place covers this region receives a wonderful inflow of freshwater and International dregs mostly from mainland China. The SCS is connected with the Pacific Ocean (Niu, 2016). The importance of the SCS China lies in its contiguity to strategically important shipment ways, and in their significant fishing grounds and oil deposits (O’Rourke, 2015). There are two archipelagoes with its geo-strategic, geo-politic and geo-economic importance in SCS; Paracel Island and Spratly Island. Paracel Island are under the control of China since 1974. On the other hand, Spratly Islands are providing controversies among China, Vietnam and Philippine.

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Besides China, Vietnam and Philippine, there are many claimants of Spratly Islands like Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan but China, Vietnam and Philippines are the most important countries in this dispute. Economically, the SCS is at the crossroads of global trade and an increasingly vital source of food, energy resources and important for its wealth of resources, from fishery stocks that comprise the livelihood and diet of so many in the region. Politically, cooperation in this sea is a growing test of rising Asia’s peace and prosperity, as well as a test of China’s narrative of its peaceful rise.

South China Sea and Maritime Claims

Source: US State Department, (2016).

The South China often simply called the “China Sea” that is semi enclosed by Southeastern China, Indo China now Vietnam, the Malay Peninsula and Borneo now Malaysia, the Philippine and the Formosa now Taiwan. The South China Sea has four major contested islands such as Paracel Islands, Spratlys Island, Pratas and Macclesfield banks (Senftleben, October 2012). It stretches around 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles). The average depth of sea is 4,000 feet with its continental shelf. This is a warm sea with high salt content. It is full of living and non-living resources with one of world busiest trade route, linking Pacific Ocean to India Ocean (Kaplan, 2016).  South China Sea is widened from Singapore Strait to Taiwan Strait with a group of six claimant’s countries Malaysia, Philippine, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China   and two non-claimants states Singapore and Indonesia. In addition, Cambodia and Thailand are located along with the South China Sea and gulf of Thailand extension   (Perkins, 2013).

Overlapping Claims in the South China Sea

The SCS is the combinations of the thousands of the islands, reef, islets, corals, shoals and atolls, cays spread 900 km from east to west and 1800 km from north to south and covering geo-political and geo-strategic interests of the region (Nair, 2012). There are many rivers which fall in SCS, those are, Mekong River, Pahang River (West Malaysia), Kiulong River (Myanmar), Pasig River (Philippine), Rajang River (Malaysia), Min River (China), Red River (China and Vietnam), Pearl River (China and Vietnam) etc (Mustajib, 2016). China has sovereignty claims over all these described archipelagos (Storey & Cheng Yi, 2016). South China Sea is very favorable and suitable for nautical trade with Middle East because of its geostrategic location, African countries to East Asian countries and as well as for Southeast Asian countries. The SCS is a very peaceful trade route since the ancient times and rich of natural resources for littoral states (Dam & Karim, 2016).

The bone of contention between China and Vietnam is the issue of Spratly and Paracel Islands. In 1950, China occupied half of the Paracel Island from the eastern side that is important island due to its geographical location and natural reserves. In 1974, China confronts with South Vietnam and got the possession of these islands that spread up to 122,650,000 square nautical miles. The second disputed island is the Spratly Island that located with 165 km in South of SCS and in the east of the Hainan Island. The Spartlys Islands comprise of 31 small islands, islets and coral reefs that spread up to 16,000 square KM (Bouchat, 2014). 

Current article contains the dispute of Paracel and Spratly islands groups. It is briefly expressing the history and current status of the SCS. 

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Pratas islands (Dongsha Quandao) consist in one island and two banks. These are North Vereker and South Vereker Bank and Dongsha. Only Dongsha above from sea level and North and South Vereker are entirely submerged. This archipelago is situated south east of the Hong Kong. These are under the sovereignty of the Taiwan and China has claim over it (Guo, 2007, p. 99). 

The Macclesfield bank is disputed between China and Philippine. It consists of 25 reefs and considered as the biggest atoll in the world and the Scarborough Shoal is located in the west of Philippines and disputed between China and Philippine. Both archipelagoes are now under the control of China (Lee B. , 2014). 

The SCS is a very productive region. China, Vietnam, Philippine and other claimant’s states are actively fishing in the area. Petroleum and natural gas deposits have been discovered under the sea’s continental shelf (Niu Y. , 2016). As the world becomes more energy dependent, such discoveries have led to disputes between the neighboring countries over control of areas with potentially exploiting hydrocarbon reserves. Particular focus is on the regions around deep ditches, straits, cliffs and uninhabited islands. A large amount of China’s oil and natural gas production comes from offshore wells in SCS (Wei, 2014). The below figures shows the undiscovered resources in the SCS that climax the economic significance of this disputed Sea for China as well as other claimants and non-claimant’s states.

(Source: US Energy Information , 2017).

South China Sea is one of the hectic trade routes in the world. It links the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean. The SCS has great importance in the world for trade routes. It joins the Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean. The SCS partakes the 50% of the global trade shipping and marine passage (Dosch, 2015). The SCS is the passage of five trillion dollars trade every year (Murray, 2016). There are two major ports in this area; Singapore port in the south of the South China Sea and Hong Kong port in its north (McKinnon, 2011). South China Sea links the Asia, America and Europe through these ports. Spratly Islands stretches about 1,000 km and all shipping and air traffic in SCS, passes near these islands (Shicun, 2013).

Strategically, the SCS the place wherever Chinese military modernization is possibly to directly challenge external threats from Vietnam, Philippine and US’s long, postwar dominance. In other words, the SCS are central to Asia-Pacific security. The stakes are high and increasing in this sea. China, Vietnam, Philippines and other regional and extra-regional countries are interested to control it. China is taking interest in the place and involved in constructing military bases and building artificial islands in the SCS. China and other claimant’s states must place a premium on avoiding war, managing disputes, slowly building institutions and advancing joint cooperation. South China Sea is also strategically important due to the rising competition between China, Vietnam, Philippine and the US for military supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region. Strategic value of the disputed islands has been cited as a potential cause of conflict in the dispute. While it is true that the islands occupy a central location between Mainland China (Yee A. , 2017).

The South China Sea is a buffer-zone for China and as well as for all other claimant of SCS.  China’s control of the region will allow Chinese to create a military barrier from which it can challenge any future military threat from any country. For example, any trade blockade, by any state or a coalition of states, against China could only be achieved through dominance of the South China Sea.

South China Sea are primary trade routes for the littoral states and carry a significant share of world merchandise trade. In Northeast Asia, key regional trade shipping lanes are located in the SCS. The comparatively smitten by maritime trade, China doesn’t border any oceans, only seas. Because of its geographic position, China’s maritime trade is extremely dependent on the shipping lanes within the South China ocean that connect vessels to the remainder of the globe. Ostensibly for the primary time in China’s history, proceeded financial development is subordinate on oceanic and get to and security (Dossani, 2016). South China Sea is one of the hectic trade routes in the world. It The SCS has great importance in the world trade routes. It joins the Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean. The SCS takes the 50% of the global trade shipping and marine passage (Dosch, 2015). The SCS is the passage of five trillion dollars trade every year. There are two major ports in this area; Singapore port in the south of the South China Sea and Hong Kong port in its north (McKinnon, 2011).

In 2012, the total population on the globe was7 billion people that will exceed up to 9 billion in 2050. It is estimated that China’s population is predicted to peak in 2030 at 1.46 billion, and Vietnam’s is expected to grow by up to 25 percent to 2050 (Owen, Dec 2011). In near future it will be a challenge to provide the necessary natural resources and energy to masses for the development of human activity. Statistical data shows that more than 25 % natural resources has been exploited from the earth’s surface. The need of the hour is to explore new natural resources that is still undiscovered in the seabed (Bonnet, 2012). 

South China Sea is the Source of oil and gas for the claimant’s states. Every claimant country is active to exploit and utilize the resources of the South China Sea. Furthermore worked hard on the discovery of resources of South China Sea and engaged many national and international oil and gas companies for the exploration of oil and gas in order to make a stable economy and self-dependent country.

Natural Resources in South China Sea

Region of South China SeaPotential Oil and Gas Reserves
Southern China1610 million barrels
South of Hainan Island220 million barrels
Gulf of Tonkin110 million barrels
South Vietnam2860 million barrels
Sunda Shelf200 million barrels
Borneo/Sarawak9280  million barrels
Philippines420 million barrels
Source:  (Swire Institute of Marine Science and Department of Ecology and Biodiversty, 2015).

China is the world’s biggest vitality customer and the moment biggest merchant of oil after the Joined Together States. Since of its developing dependence on characteristic gas in later a long time, China is presently a net merchant of natural gas. EIA (Energy Information Administration) forecasts continued growth in Chinese oil and natural gas consumption, necessitating new supplies to meet demand. So in this regard, The South China Sea is rich of natural reserves like Gas, Oil, Coral Olive, silicate, Grit, quality Gem, natural materials, fish, birds and sea shells has long been the target China, Vietnam, Philippine and other neighboring countries that are facing China’s maritime areas. The South China Sea may have abundant hydrocarbon resources, especially natural gas, oil and fishing although the region is underexplored. These natural resources increased the importance of South China Sea. These resources are the big reason of the stimulation of the neighboring countries for the occupation of South China Sea.  So China is interested for using natural resources from the South China Sea to meet rising domestic demand. However, unresolved territorial disputes make exploration and development of these resources difficult.

According to the US energy information agency, the SCS contains eleven-billion-barrel oil. The SCS also contains 190 trillion cubic feet natural gas resources. An Indian navy captain reported that SCS has 6.5-billion-barrel oil cash and 870 trillion cubic feet natural gas stashes.  The US geology reservical survey gave a report in which they estimated that there is additional 12-billion-barrel oil and 160 trillion cubic feet gas resources in SCS which is still undiscovered (Metelitsa & Kupfer, Oil and Gas Resources and Transit Issues in the South China sea, 2014). Paracel Island is a home of natural resources and minerals. The US Energy Information Administration (USEIA) published a report in 2013 and estimated that Paracel Island contains 1 trillion cubic feet natural gas (Miller, 2017).

SCS LNG Trade Flows

Source(Cedigaz;, 2012).

The South China Ocean is at the junction of worldwide exchange and a progressively imperative source of nourishment, vitality assets and imperative for its riches of assets from fishery stocks that comprise the livelihood and diet of so many in the region It supplies potentially 10 percent of global consumption, despite dramatic stock declines between the 1960s and late 1990s. The Spratly Islands is one of the world dense and richest fishing grounds with up to 7.5 ton of fish per sq. km. Role of fish in surrounding countries like China, Vietnam and Philippines boost the fishing industry of these countries and participate its role in the economy of these countries. Paracel Island provide China and Vietnam closest point of fishing. Paracel Island are the hub of fishing and world’s fourth productive fishing zones in earth. It contributes world’s 10 percent fishing on annual basis. Fishes of Paracel Island made China as world’s largest consumer and exporter country and Vietnam achieved second foreign exchange and earned 7 percent of its GDP (Lyle, July,2013).

China claimed the SCS under nine dash lines which is an historical map. China has long historical evidences and strong position in the SCS dispute. China is utilizing all means and actions to acquire its objectives in the SCS. All Chinese institutions are working like a body and their coordination, efficiency and executive actions are quite rapid, quick and homogenous. China is the potential regional power and rising hegemon. China has gained the status of the second largest global economy in 2010 and world largest military in form of strength with stable political system. South China Sea is situated in the western edge of Pacific Ocean (Ma, 2016).

  It is the busiest sea for trade and multiple activities of the regional as well as other regional countries. Chinese claimed that China had ruled in SCS and Paracel and Spratly Islands from 200 BC (Rachel, 2013). The essential problem of the SCS Dispute deceits at China’s “tongue-like nine dashed lines” that is understood through the SCS in ranges where a few different nations debate their cases. Because of this current, China’s point of view requires a more inside and out investigation. China by excellence of its size is a key player in the South China Sea issue seen by its becoming political, financial, and military power. It appears that the reason for China’s claim in the SCS is to all the while reinforce its military may, upgrade its fleshly nearness in the district, and furthermore to investigate future assets for the necessities of its developing populace. China have built up a “three no’s” arrangement to manage the South China Sea debate no determination of cases, no multidimensional transactions, and no “Worldwide” of the issue, including no inclusion of outside forces. China has an arrangement of “no detail of its cases” in the SCS. China’s activities demonstrate that it has guaranteed power over the whole South China Sea, however in the meantime it declines to enumerate or legitimize its claim beside the verifiable nine-dashed-line outline it has delivered (Khoury, February 2017).

China is clear and rational in order to pursue and achieve its geopolitical, geo-strategic and geo-economic interest in the SCS. In this regard, PRC is spending military budget in double figure. China also want to maintain its hegemony in the region as well as on the South China Sea. To maintain its hegemony in this region. China is modernized its military capability and to show its supremacy on the SCS building of artificial island is another tactic of China.  China also want to secure its trade routes and natural resources of SCS like Oil, gas, fishing of this region. China announced its oil exploration in deep sea near the Spratly Islands in 2014 and China National Off Shore Oil Corporation begun its work in the deep sea. This was the disputed territory between China and Vietnam. Vietnam protested in this Chinese act (Dicke & Holbig, 2014). 

This region also has the impotence for Chinese deterrence policy against US Japan and other actors in the SCS. This deterrence policy enabled China to strengthen its anti- radar ship technology, intelligence gatherings. Anti-ship missiles technology, anti-submarines weapons, anti-satellite weapons and anti-air ship ballistic missiles. It is argued that China has seriously challenges these countries by deterring policy. In counter response US is making alliances with regional actors like the ASEAN states to overcome this geostrategic important place. A power game has commenced among the countries of the region and other stack-holders. The US has interests in the region and it is also vital for its hegemony but China is not ready to go back from their national interest and marked this region as a core interest of its foreign policy ( Greer, July 20, 2016).

There are some historical evidences from the previous history of Vietnam which show Vietnamese sovereignty over the SCS and its adjacent islands groups. Vietnam is natural homeland for fishing since the ancient time. It was Vietnamese fishermen who first discovered uninhabited the Paracel Islands and the Spratlsy Islands. Paracel Islands are located approximately 125 NM far from Vietnam in South China Sea. Spratly archipelagoes are situated in the east of Vietnam, 260 NM away from Cam Ranh Bay maritime base of Vietnam (Hai, 2017, pp. 28-29). South China Sea is the Source of oil and gas for the East Asian countries. Every country is active to exploit and utilize the resources of the South China Sea. In this regard, Vietnam has worked hard on the discovery of resources of South China Sea and engaged many national and international oil and gas companies for the exploration of oil and gas in order to make a stable economy and self-dependent country. Petro Vietnam is Vietnam’s state owned company for petro oil and gas exploration in Vietnam (Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group, 2010). Petro-Vietnam has signed 50 oil and gas manufacturing and interest sharing contracts with almost 50 international oil and gas probe companies. Vietnam depends heavily on its maritime economy for energy, fish, and to still unknown quantities of hydrocarbons and other seabed minerals. The Vietnamese government is seeking to further exploit maritime resources, calling for the maritime economy’s share of GDP to increase from 48 to 55 percent by 2020 ( Cronin, 5 June,2013).

Philippines considers Spratly Islands as an important strategic and military base for the Philippines defense as well as for Natural resources like oil, gas and fish in surrounding water of the Spratly Islands contribute revenue for Philippines and increase its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Philippines claim over Spratly Islands was mostly based on its geographical proximity and effective control over Spratly Islands and (Kalyan. Philippine claims that these Islands are the part of Philippines territory. Scarborough shoal and KIG is the part of Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone under UNCLOS 1982. South China Sea has large importance for Philippines due to vast energy resources like oil, gas, minerals and fishing etc. Philippines summoned the US oil company for the probe of oil and gas in Spratly Islands in 1994. Philippines is the nearest country closer to the Spratly Islands then China and Vietnam. Government engaged the foreign oil companies for the exploration of the oil in this group of islands. Spratly Islands and its surrounding water are full of fishing resources. Due to dense area of the Spratly Islands for fishing, it involved the big population of the fishermen in this area. Almost 1.61 million Philippine’s are involved in fishing which is 15 percent of the Philippines population. Fishing is the focal point of Philippines economy and contributes 4.3 per cent of its GDP (Courmont, Lasserre, & Mottet, 2017, p. 40).

*Imran Altaf is a MS Scholar at Jilin University, Changchun China, a student of International Relations at School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University, with research interests include China and Neighboring Countries Issues , Information Sharing etc

One thought on “Geo-Strategic Significance And Importance Of South China Sea For China, Vietnam And Philippines – Analysis

  • February 8, 2022 at 12:52 pm
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    Very well done Imran

    Reply

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