Currently the South China Sea (SCS) question has reached a precarious situation. Over the course of social antiquity, territorial differences have often stemmed from historic and cultural claims; ultimately resulting in to geopolitical vicissitudes. Chinese maritime jaunts towards the Southeast Asia and the Middle East have existed for centuries. Trade routes have been sailed since the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AC) and exchanges made with the Roman Empire. After Zheng He, voyages were forbidden by the Emperor and China closed its frontiers for a while.
The Scarborough Shoal standoff in 2012, the HYSY 981 drilling rig crisis in 2014, the US navigation incident in 2015, and the scheme on shelving territorial disputes all relate to the prevailing clashes in the South China Sea. The South China Sea is a decisive sea transport lane, full with seafood, considerable oil and gas assets and an extensive bio diverse coral reef ecological unit, surrounding continental shelf i.e. 5,000 meters deep containing rocks and small islands; namely Paracel, Spratly and Scarborough Shoal.
China repeatedly claims her sovereignty upon all these land topographies lying within the dash line and “sovereign rights in the waters and sea bed” within the dash-line limit.
Presently SCS disputes have reached a critical situation. Most of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea have been occupied by China, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Malaysia. In the face of these disagreements and uncertainty over South China Sea, by the above claimants have entangled energy corporations for the purpose of investigation and exploitation in their corresponding claims. China‘s mounting energy requirements, deteriorating aptitude to meet expected growth rate with internal energy sources, and unrelenting oil necessities have driven China’s quest for substitute energy cradles, fabricating dependence and susceptibility on the maritime trade means while contesting the liberty of the oceans and maritime competition in Asia.
Therefore, to meet their energy requirements China’s President Xi Jinping in 2013, presented his Vision of “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR). The venture is a trade and infrastructure complex, encompassing the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road, together networking China with nations in Asia, Africa, Middle East and Europe. OBOR intends to upturn connectivity thus developing trade streams to spur enduring pecuniary expansion and progress for the participants. The initiative is noteworthy for China’s intentions of domestic and regional economic enlargement.
China’s vision of domestic and regional economic integration, is leading to a nasty returning pattern in South China Sea; not only including claimants, but also extra-regional stakeholders. An increase in actors to a substantial degree, have rendered the clash further obstinate, as a sole concession among two parties, this may have spill-over effects upon third countries. The China-Philippine arbitration of January 2013 continues to highlight this dilemma. Inter alia, a trend of territorialization in China’s dash-line claim and island-reclamation works.
However, previous collaborative measures, without settlement of the maritime borders, have been grounded on a flimsy symmetry of authorities. The claimants of South China Sea are ignoring the parameters i.e. necessary for a sustainable and mutually-beneficial resolution. The subject outshines two perceptions. On one side, there advances an unconcealed belief on international law when ASEAN appellants (Vietnam and the Philippines), proclaim their prerogatives, while highlighting their point of view under the umbrella of historic facts and accentuating the status of global law of sea.
Secondly claimants are politicizing their descriptions thus providing more inspiration for fueling the patriotic thoughts and overloading these claims. Under this dilemma, how would a suggestion of constructing a maritime trade route and the Road plan, interrelate the rankling with regard to South China Sea disputes?
Consequently Chinese officials’ reactions to the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague (PCA) on the South China Sea could have wide-ranging implications for China’s Silk Road, the economic initiative. China’s standing for the rule of law at stake and her supervision of worldwide tribunal’s presiding, appears shortsighted at best. Ignoring the ruling of the court completely may introduce misgiving, deteriorate the disagreements, and fetch in additional actors which otherwise should not be involved.
If a consensus on the initiative could not have been achieved lacking the mutual understanding then it may be perceived as a “geopolitical conspiracy”. Hence, China needs to promote essentially required political and strategic confidence with the Southeast Asian countries.
To diminish the safety apprehensions of the ASEAN countries and the surging shared belief, China should verify her persistence on the nine-dash line and come up with her own roadmap for resolution of this clash. The likelihood of collaboration depends on acute precondition that there become an agreement on parts that may be focus of collective advancement. Yet, for the claimant nations, the sovereignty and security concerns may well be above joint development, as China had specified that, “Beijing would only concede to joint cooperative activities if the other claimants first acknowledge Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea.”
*Qura tul ain Hafeez has a M Phil in International Relations from Quaid-I Azam University Islamabad. She is currently working as a researcher at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad. Her domain of work includes China as an emerging global power, Sino-Pakistan strategic and civil nuclear relations, South Asian strategic issues, regional integration, nuclear issues including nuclear non-proliferation and NSG, Foreign Policy analysis, and international politics.