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Focus: GS-II International Relations


  • Chinese muscularity in the South China Sea is leading to a growing chorus of protest.
  • The South China Sea (SCS) is important not just to its littoral countries. It has been a transit point for trade since early medieval times, contains abundantly rich fisheries, and is a repository of mineral deposits and hydrocarbon reserves.

China’s Authority and Disregard to Judgements

  • The Philippines invoked the dispute settlement mechanism of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 2013 regarding the disputed Spratlys, to which the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) passed a Judgement that China’s position in the matter was NOT legal.
  • China had aggravated the situation by undertaking land reclamation and construction, and had harmed the environment and violated its obligation to preserve the ecosystem.
  • The award implied that China violated the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). China dismissed the judgment as “null and void.”
  • Philippines had not followed up on the PCA judgment because the Philippines could not afford to fight China.
  • Not one country challenged China, which agreed to settle disputes bilaterally, and to continue work on a Code of Conduct with countries of the ASEAN.

Countries around China Strengthening their Military

  • Vietnam has added six Kilo-class, Russian-origin submarines to its navy.
  • France, Germany and the Netherlands, respectively, have supplied Formidable-class stealth ships to Singapore, patrol boats to Brunei Darussalam, and corvettes to Indonesia.
  • Japan is partially funding the upgradation of the Indonesian coast guard.
  • Indonesia and the Philippines are in early stages of exploring procurement of the BrahMos missile from India.

How is China Exploiting the South China Sea?

Growing Chinese muscularity in the SCS is visible in

  1. Increased patrolling and live-fire exercising by Chinese naval vessels
  2. Ramming and sinking of fishing vessels of other claimant countries
  3. Renaming of SCS features
  4. Building of runways, bunkers, and habitation for possible long-term stationing of personnel on the atolls claimed by China  
  5. Chinese exploration and drilling vessels competing aggressively with those of other littoral countries in the disputed waters.

Russian Involvement

  • A complicating factor for China is Russia’s growing military and economic equities in the SCS.
  • Russia and Vietnam have a defence cooperation relationship, which they are committed to strengthening.
  • A Russian oil company has also been invited by the Philippines to conduct oil prospecting in its EEZ.

India’s relevant options: Way Forward

From India’s perspective, foreign and security policy in its larger neighbourhood covers the entire expanse of the Asia-Pacific and extends to the Persian Gulf and West Asia.

The SCS carries merchandise to and from India, hence, it follows that India has a stake in the SCS, just as China has in the Indian Ocean.

  1. India must continue to actively pursue its defence diplomacy outreach in the Indo-Pacific region.
  2. India must increase military training and conduct exercises and exchanges at a higher level of complexity.
  3. India must extend Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief activities and share patrolling of the Malacca Strait with the littoral countries.
  4. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships that India has concluded with Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the U.S., and Vietnam could be extended to Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore.
  5. India must also increase support to the military capacity of the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command.

-Source: The Hindu

June 2024