IN or­dEr to utILISE oceans peace­fully and equally, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has main­tained in­ter­na­tional norms and rules which in­cludes united Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea (uNCLoS). China be­came Peo­ple’s re­pub­lic of China (PrC) in 1949 and there­after be­came party to uNCLoS.

How­ever, China in re­cent times is will­ing to take ex­traor­di­nar­ily uni­lat­eral steps to ex­er­cise its in­flu­ence in mar­itime af­fairs to con­form to its na­tional ob­jec­tives spe­cially in the South China Sea (SCS) and the East China Sea (ECS). the SCS has great strate­gic im­por­tance as it cov­ers China and con­nects the In­dian Ocean to the Pa­cific ocean. South China Sea ex­tends from the Strait of Malacca in the south-west, to the Strait of tai­wan in the north-east. the SCS dis­putes in­volve claims among sev­eral coun­tries within the re­gion like PrC (hence­forth re­ferred as China), the re­pub­lic of China (roC-tai­wan), Brunei, Malaysia, In­done­sia, Philip­pines and Viet­nam.

An es­ti­mated $5 tril­lion worth of global trade passes through the SCS. Apart from the lit­toral states of SCS, there are many non-claimant states which want the SCS to re­main as in­ter­na­tional wa­ters with ‘free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion’ to all. the dis­putes in­clude the is­lands, reefs, banks and other fea­tures of the SCS in­clud­ing the Spratly Is­lands, Para­cel Is­lands, var­i­ous bound­aries in the Gulf of tonkin and wa­ters near the In­done­sian Natuna Is­lands. Claimant states are in­ter­ested in re­tain­ing or ac­quir­ing the fish­ing rights, ex­plo­ration and po­ten­tial ex­ploita­tion of crude oil and nat­u­ral gas in the seabed of var­i­ous parts of the SCS and con­trol over the im­por­tant sea lanes.

China’s Mar­itime Strat­egy

For many years, China had no clear mar­itime strat­egy but as soon as it started build­ing its mar­itime ca­pa­bil­ity, it started flex­ing its mus­cles in the re­gion. Liu Huaqing, who was head­ing Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Navy (PLAN) from 1982-88, con­trib­uted heav­ily to­wards the mod­erni­sa­tion of PLAN and changed China’s mar­itime strat­egy from free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion to sea con­trol in the ‘near sea’ re­gion which ap­plies to the First Is­land Chain and in­cludes the SCS and ECS.

Sea con­trol also im­plies man­age­ment of the sea. Both China and tai­wan claim al­most the en­tire SCS and in­di­cate their claims with what is known as the Nine-dot­ted Line or Nine-dash Line. this claimed bound­ary vir­tu­ally over­laps ev­ery other coun­try in the re­gion. the Nine-dash Line was ini­tially used by tai­wan but now China claims it. China also holds a unique con­cept of mar­itime ju­ris­dic­tion known as “na­tional mar­itime land”. un­der this con­cept, China takes ter­ri­to­rial wa­ter, con­tigu­ous wa­ter and the ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ) as na­tional mar­itime zones in which China can ex­er­cise strong rights, such as ban­ning mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and so on.

Some ex­am­ples of China’s over­reach are:

●●In 1974 China wrested con­trol of the Para­cel Is­lands by force from Viet­nam when Viet­nam tried to ex­pel the Chi­nese Navy from the area. As a re­sult con­flict sit­u­a­tion arose with Viet­nam which still sim­mers be­tween them.

●● Pratas Is­lands are un­der con­trol of tai­wan but China con­tin­ues to con­test it.

●●dur­ing 2002, the dec­la­ra­tion on Code of Con­duct of Par­ties was signed as an in­stru­ment for res­o­lu­tion of con­flict­ing claims but it has re­mained mostly in­ef­fec­tive and none of the claimant coun­tries have the eco­nomic or mil­i­tary clout to chal­lenge China.

●●In 2012, China took an ag­gres­sive stance by re­strict­ing ac­cess to the Scar­bor­ough Shoals to the Philip­pines which re­sulted in Philip­pines go­ing for ar­bi­tra­tion un­der An­nex VII of the uNCLoS which ruled in July 2016 in favour of Philip­pines but China nei­ther ac­knowl­edges the tri­bunal nor abides by its rul­ing, in­sist­ing that any res­o­lu­tion of the mat­ter should be made through bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions with other claimants.

Cur­rent Sit­u­a­tion

Ten­sion and con­flict like sit­u­a­tion re­mains in both the SCS as well in the ESC due to is­land dis­putes, land recla­ma­tion, con­fronta­tions, clashes be­tween mar­itime law en­force­ment ves­sels, free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion op­er­a­tions by uS Navy and threats from PLAN. Para­cel Is­land has over 30 is­lands and China has ex­tended the run­way and de­ployed sur­face-to-air mis- sile sys­tems on one of its is­lands called Woody Is­land. It is go­ing ahead with rapid and large-scale land recla­ma­tion works on seven of the Spratly Is­lands and has also built in­fra­struc­ture in­clud­ing run­ways, and ports that can be used for mil­i­tary pur­poses.

Nu­mer­ous in­ci­dents of con­fronta­tion have oc­curred be­tween PLAN and Ja­pan’s Mar­itime Self-de­fense Force (JMSdF), and uS Air Force and Navy in the ECS. In 2016, 121 Chi­nese ships crossed into the ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters of the Senkaku. China re­quests prior no­ti­fi­ca­tion be­fore other coun­tries’ war­ships pass its ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters but PLAN fleets passed US’ ter­ri­to­rial wa­ter near Aleu­tian Is­lands while ex­er­cis­ing in­no­cent pas­sage in Septem­ber 2014 with­out in­form­ing uS.

Adding to the mount­ing mar­itime prob­lems in the re­gion, Pres­i­dent don­ald Trump’s pol­icy for the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion is still not clear. For­mer di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence and Com­man­der of the US Pa­cific Com­mand Ad­mi­ral Den­nis C. Blair ex­pressed his con­cern about the is­sue by stat­ing at the Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Novem­ber 2016, that “over­laps in econ­omy and se­cu­rity may re­sult in deal-mak­ing in mar­itime se­cu­rity in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion and will put some re­al­ity into this idea that the Pa­cific is big enough for both uS and China.”

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping made his in­ten­tions very clear when on May 24, while on an in­spec­tion of the PLAN head­quar­ters, “called for ef­forts to build the PLAN into a strong and mod­ern force to lend sup­port for the re­al­i­sa­tion of the Chi­nese dream of na­tional re­ju­ve­na­tion and the dream of a strong army.”

In­ter­est of US

SCS links the Pa­cific and In­dian Ocean and as such uS uses it to move their war­ships from the Pa­cific fleet for mil­i­tary mis­sions to the Ara­bian Sea and the Per­sian Gulf. this route also con­nects close al­lies of uS like Ja­pan to safely move their en­ergy needs from the Mid­dle East. How­ever, uS also fol­lows a pol­icy of “ac­tive neu­tral­ity” which im­plies that it will re­main neu­tral on lo­cal

ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes, pre­vent use of force in set­tling them and would not al­low any ac­tions which will threaten the peace in the re­gion. Such ‘ac­tive neu­tral­ity’ is bound to move US on a path of con­flict with China spe­cially when its Pa­cific Fleet is the largest naval com­mand in the world with about 190 ships sup­ported by uS Navy and Ma­rine Corps air­craft, and 35 shore in­stal­la­tions.

the uS also main­tains that ter­ror­ist threat from the sea is as real as the threat from land and air. the pres­ence of Je­maah Is­lamiyah (JI) in the re­gion sup­ports the uS con­cern of ter­ror­ist threat. JI is a mil­i­tant Is­lamist group ac­tive in sev­eral South­east Asian coun­tries that seeks to es­tab­lish a pan-Is­lamic state across much of the re­gion. JI is al­leged to have at­tacked or plot­ted against uS and Western tar­gets in In­done­sia, Sin­ga­pore and the Philip­pines. thus the uS in­ter­est in the SCS is based on main­tain­ing its free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and global war on ter­ror­ism. What is un­said is its con­cern over China’s grow­ing foot­print in the re­gion and tai­wan.

the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion had launched three ma­jor in­ter­na­tional mar­itime se­cu­rity ini­tia­tives, i.e. the Con­tainer Se­cu­rity Ini­tia­tive (CSI), the Pro­lif­er­a­tion Se­cu­rity Ini­tia­tive (PSI), and the re­gional Mar­itime Se­cu­rity Ini­tia­tive (rMSI).CSI and PSI are ap­pli­ca­ble glob­ally but rMSI is aimed spe­cially for Strait of Malacca. A large num­ber of na­tions have ac­cepted CSI but there is great op­po­si­tion to the other two.

In­dia has got con­cerns of its own in join­ing these ini­tia­tives. rMSI has raised the hack­les of na­tions around the SCS. the ini­tia­tive briefly in­volves high speed ves­sels em­barked with uS Spe­cial op­er­a­tions Forces to carry out in­ter­dic­tion. Coun­tries like Malaysia and In­done­sia sum­mar­ily re­jected the pro­posal of uS in­ter­ven­tion and stated that they have enough ca­pa­bil­ity to man­age on their own. Any in­ter­dic­tion car­ried out by for­eign troops in the Malacca Strait will not be ac­cepted. the uS then of­fered the view that their pro­posal has been mis­un­der­stood and it in­volved only the shar­ing of in­tel­li­gence. the uSN then started joint anti-ter­ror­ism bi­lat­eral ex­er­cises with other friendly coun­tries like Sin­ga­pore and Philip­pines in the SCS as an al­ter­na­tive. It also gave them an ex­cuse to make their pres­ence in the re­gion.

re­cently the Pen­tagon sent the Carl Vin­son car­rier group into the SCS which was re­ported to be an­other of the Navy’s “free­dom-of-nav­i­ga­tion” cruises by op­er­at­ing in the Korean Penin­sula as North Korea was about to carry out a nu­clear test. How­ever, North Korea tested a mis­sile of 500 km which landed in the Sea of Ja­pan. Al­though the uSS Vin­son car­rier group headed into the SCS but it moved else­where. the uS Navy does not of­fi­cially con­firm the where­abouts of its war­ships for se­cu­rity rea­sons but it ap­pears now the group in­stead be­gan to chart a course south, to­wards In­done­sia.

In­ter­est of Ja­pan

Ja­pan is build­ing up its in­flu­ence in the SCS to check Chi­nese ex­pan­sion and also ac­quire sup­port for its broader mil­i­tary as well as eco­nomic in­ter­ests. Ja­pan and China dis­pute the eight un­in­hab­ited Senkaku Is­lands in the ESC where Ja­pan con­trols the islets, which are 200 nm (370 km) south-east of ok­i­nawa and called diaoyu­dao in China. It reg­u­larly re­ports spot­ting Chi­nese mil­i­tary air­craft fly­ing over nearby wa­ters.

Ja­pan has sev­eral vi­tal in­ter­ests in safe­guard­ing the sea lanes of the SCS. It is a ma­jor player in in­ter­na­tional trade and is ASEAN fourth rank­ing trad­ing part­ner. Al­most all of Ja­pan’s oil sup­ply is im­ported from the Mid­dle East through the SCS. It im­ports 99 per cent of its pe­tro­leum and 70 per cent of its food by sea. Ships carry 99 per cent of Ja­panese ex­ports by vol- ume. thus Ja­pan sees mar­itime se­cu­rity as an in­te­gral part of its com­pre­hen­sive se­cu­rity strat­egy.

Ja­pan is a mem­ber of the Pro­lif­er­a­tion Se­cu­rity Ini­tia­tive (PSI) and has been hold­ing reg­u­lar joint ex­er­cises. Ja­pan has also ini­ti­ated its own pro­posal to com­bat piracy and mar­itime ter­ror­ism threats by hav­ing an ocean peace keep­ing fleet to con­duct multi­na­tional naval and coast guard pa­trols. this was gen­er­ally op­posed by many south-east­ern states, how­ever, Sin­ga­pore was most re­spon­sive. China op­posed the pro­posal be­cause it felt that this may be a ploy by Ja­pan to ex­pand its own naval pres­ence, make up for de­cline in uSN pa­trols and to counter China’s con­trol in South­east Asia. How­ever two other pro­pos­als have found favour as fol­lows:

●●Estab­lish­ment of the Asia Mar­itime Se­cu­rity Ini­tia­tive (AMArSECtIVE). this pro­vides for re­gional tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance and in­for­ma­tion shar­ing.

●●re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment on Anti-Piracy in Asia (reCAAP), aimed at pre­vent­ing and re­spond­ing to piracy and armed rob­bery against ships as well as strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion among mem­ber coun­tries in the ar­eas of in­for­ma­tion shar­ing, ca­pac­ity build­ing and op­er­a­tions. Many coun­tries in­clud­ing In­dia and China have rat­i­fied the agree­ment. Also Ja­pan’s ef­forts in work­ing with other SCS lit­toral states to com­bat piracy and ter­ror­ism have gen­er­ally been suc­cess­ful.

Ja­pan has sent Izumo heli­copter-car­ry­ing war­ship, in May this year, through the SCS on its way to the In­dian ocean for joint ex­er­cise Mal­abar with navies of In­dia and uS in July. It will also make stops in Sin­ga­pore, In­done­sia, Philip­pines and Sri Lanka, and re­turn to Ja­pan in Au­gust. Ja­pan is fol­low­ing a proac­tive strat­egy in terms of pro- vid­ing as­sis­tance to the ASEAN coun­tries in terms of con­duct­ing pa­trols in the re­gion and also send­ing the war­ships to ASEAN coun­tries. Some ex­am­ples are:

●●Ja­pan sent three am­phibi­ous ships to the Philip­pines in 2013 for relief af­ter ty­phoon Haiyan killed about 6,300 peo­ple.

●●re­cently Ja­pan has given Philip­pines two pa­trol ves­sels and said it would lease train­ing air­craft, adding to an ear­lier of­fer of 10 coast guard ships.

●● Ja­pan agreed in 2014 to sell Viet­nam six used mar­itime sur­veil­lance ves­sels and pledged to sell it six new pa­trol ships. It ap­pears that Ja­pan is try­ing to shed its paci­fist ap­proach, spe­cially un­der Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe.

In­ter­est of Aus­tralia

trade is the main rea­son of Aus­tralia’s in­ter­est in the sea routes and the SCS as its an­nual seaborne trade is ap­prox­i­mately more than $188 bil­lion. It has a Five Power de­fence Ar­range­ments to in­clude New Zealand, uK, Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore to cater for de­fence of the lat­ter two coun­tries against ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sion. So far Aus­tralia’s in­volve­ment in the con­flict has been rel­a­tively low risk. It is learnt that its Navy is yet to sail within 12 nm of the Chi­nese is­lands and China does not ap­pear to be threat­ened by Aus­tralia. China is Aus­tralia’s big­gest trad­ing part­ner and at the same time Aus­tralia has to sup­port uS in the re­gion thus it makes the sit­u­a­tion quite com­plex.

Other De­vel­op­ments

the Philip­pines has cut a deal with China to reach a com­pro­mise on dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries. So has Viet­nam, and Malaysia is in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the same in­tent. thai­land has no quar­rel with China, but it is re­plac­ing out­dated uS mil­i­tary gear with Chi­nese-made fighter jets and a new sub­ma­rine. rail­road stocks are also com­ing from China and Ja­pan.

In­ter­est of In­dia

In­dia has no claims in SCS and it is in In­dia’s na­tional in­ter­est to have good re­la­tions with China and also main­tain­ing the cur­rent peace and free­dom of pas­sage for mar­itime trade through the SCS. Like rus­sia, In­dia is also get­ting in­volved in the SCS is­sue as a neu­tral party. Last year the For­eign Min­is­ters of China, rus­sia and In­dia re­leased a tri­lat­eral com­mu­niqué which sent a clear sig­nal that Moscow and New delhi sup­port China’s po­si­tion and that the SCS dis­pute should not be ‘in­ter­na­tion­alised’ but re­solved by the par­ties con­cerned bi­lat­er­ally. How­ever it is of prime im­por­tance that free­dom of pas­sage through the re­gion re­mains un­hin­dered as In­dian trade and eco­nomic in­ter­ests in the Pa­cific are be­com­ing stronger and deeper.

ASEAN and the Far East­ern Pa­cific re­gions are the fo­cus of the ‘Act East’ pol- icy for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Any con­flict in the SCS will hin­der the move­ment of trade. China not com­ply­ing to uNCLoS in the case of Philip­pines has raised the hack­les of coun­tries in the re­gion.

oil ex­plo­ration is an­other area of in­ter­est to In­dia. In Septem­ber 2011, shortly af­ter China and Viet­nam had signed an agree­ment seek­ing to con­tain a dis­pute over the SCS, In­dia signed a three-year deal with PetroViet­nam for de­vel­op­ing longterm co­op­er­a­tion in the oil sec­tor and that it had ac­cepted Viet­nam’s of­fer of ex­plo­ration in cer­tain spec­i­fied blocks in the SCS. China has protested but Viet­nam has as­serted that no­body could pre­vent In­dia’s oil ex­plo­ration ef­forts in its coun­try as it was be­ing un­der­taken in Hanoi’s ex­clu­sive ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters.

In­dia’s as­pi­ra­tion is to have an im­por­tant place in the larger Asia-Pa­cific re­gion both eco­nom­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily. In­dia is try­ing to achieve this by en­gag­ing coun­tries in the re­gion to es­tab­lish bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. one ad­van­tage In­dia has in this re­gard is that ex­cept with China, In­dia has no dis­pute with any other coun­try. the other strat­egy was to seek part­ner­ship sta­tus with ASEAN. thus In­dia be­came a ‘Sec­toral di­a­logue Part­ner’ of ASEAN in 1992; a ‘ Full di­a­logue Part­ner’ in 1995; joined the ASEAN re­gional Fo­rum in 1996; be­came a Full Sum­mit Part­ner of ASEAN in 2002; ac­ceded to ASEAN’s treaty of Amity and Co­op­er­a­tion 40 in 2003; and in 2004 signed an agree­ment with ASEAN to pro­mote peace, progress, and shared pros­per­ity. In­dia also feels that China’s one Belt one road (oBor) is be­ing pro­moted spe­cially to in­crease its foot­print in the re­gion.

Naval Di­plo­macy

the In­dian Navy car­ries out reg­u­lar joint ex­er­cises — Mal­abar with the uS Navy, Sim­bex with the re­pub­lic of Sin­ga­pore Navy, with PLAN in 2003 and later took part in their In­ter­na­tional Fleet re­view (IFr) in 2009. Apart from the In­dian ocean, In­dia has steadily gained in­flu­ence in the Pa­cific ocean. In 2007, the In­dian Navy con­ducted naval ex­er­cise with Ja­pan Mar­itime SelfDe­fense Force and US Navy in the Pa­cific and also signed an agree­ment with Ja­pan in oc­to­ber 2008 for joint naval pa­trolling in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.

In­dia has also held naval ex­er­cises with Viet­nam, Philip­pines and New Zealand. In 2007, In­dia and South Korea de­cided to con­duct an­nual naval ex­er­cise and In­dia par­tic­i­pated in the South Korean IFr. Navies/Coast Guard of Sin­ga­pore, Sri Lanka, thai­land, Aus­tralia, Bangladesh, In­done­sia, Malaysia, Myan­mar, Brunei, Philip­pines, Viet­nam and New Zealand par­tic­i­pate in Ex­er­cise Mi­lan which is held ev­ery two years off the Coast of An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­land.

the In­dian Navy has been par­tic­i­pat­ing in co­or­di­nated pa­trol with In­done­sia and Myan­mar. It also car­ries out joint ex­er­cise with In­done­sia. the In­dian Navy car­ries out PAS­SEX (pass­ing ex­er­cise) with many coun­tries like Ja­pan and In­done­sia. the In­dian Navy reg­u­larly par­tic­i­pates in ASEAN de­fence Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing (AdMM) Plus Ex­er­cise on Mar­itime Se­cu­rity and Counter ter­ror­ism. Apart from joint ex­er­cises, In­dia has mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion pacts with many coun­tries of the re­gion.

the In­dian Navy war­ships reg­u­larly carry out over­seas de­ploy­ment to mark their pres­ence in the re­gion and anti-piracy pa­trols. In­dia’s mar­itime as­pi­ra­tions are aptly put across in its cur­rent mar­itime doc­trine which states that “the In­dian mar­itime vi­sion for the first quar­ter of the 21st cen­tury must look at the arc from the Per­sian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca as a le­git­i­mate area of in­ter­est,” which war­rants a strong naval and eco­nomic pres­ence in the re­gion.

In­dia’s mar­itime as­pi­ra­tions are aptly put across in its cur­rent mar­itime doc­trine which states that “the In­dian mar­itime vi­sion for the first quar­ter of the 21st cen­tury must look at the arc from the Per­sian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca as a le­git­i­mate area of in­ter­est,” which war­rants a strong naval and eco­nomic pres­ence in the re­gion


An MH-60R Sea Hawk from the He­li­copter Mar­itime Strike Squadron (HSM) 78 Blue Hawks flies near the air­craft car­rier USS Carl Vin­son, April 24, 2017. US Navy air­craft car­rier strike groups have pa­trolled the Indo-Asia Pa­cific rou­tinely for more than 70...


Subi Reef be­ing built by China and trans­formed into an ar­ti­fi­cial is­land in South China Sea

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