South China Sea 

#GS1 #Geography #GS2 #InternationalRelations 

The leaders of the ASEAN have said that UNCLOS 1982 should be the basis of sovereign rights and entitlements in the South China Sea. 

South China Sea dispute

  • The South China Sea is a busy international waterway, one of the main arteries of global trade worth more than $5 trillion and is growing year on year. It is a rich source of hydrocarbons and natural resources. 
  • The South China Sea is an area of growing conflicts due to territorial claims by different countries. With respect to the Spratly Islands, different geographic features are reportedly occupied by claimants such as Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, and Malaysia. The Paracels Islands are claimed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan. 
  • In the first half of the 20th century, the Sea remained almost quiet. In fact, at the end of World War II, no claimant occupied a single island in the entire South China Sea. 
  • China laid claim to the South China Sea in 1947. It demarcated its claims with a U-shaped line made up of eleven dashes on a map, covering most of the area. 
  • But two “dashes” were removed in the early 1950s to bypass the Gulf of Tonkin as a gesture to communist comrades in North Vietnam. The remaining ‘nine-dash line’ stretches hundreds of kilometres south and east of its southerly Hainan Island, covering almost 90% of South China Sea. 
  • After 1960’s when the huge reserve of oil and natural gas were discovered in the region, the territorial claims started growing in an unprecedented manner. 

Importance of South China Sea for India  

  • Trade and Energy – 55% of India’s trade passes through Strait of Malacca which opens into South China Sea and India has a stake in ensuring freedom of navigation. (ONGC and PetroVietnam oil exploration MoU in South China Sea) 
  • It is important for India to maintain good relations with ASEAN countries and Japan. 
  • From Strategic point of view, India might be interested in developing strategic contacts in South China Sea (as suggested by Former Defence Minister George Fernandes) to counter Chinese presence in Indian Ocean. ((Vietnam has offered naval base facilities at Cam Ranh Bay to Indian Navy) 
  • India has discreetly contested the claims of U-shaped ‘nine-dash line’ marking the vast area that China claims in the sea, a route for more than $5 trillion in trade each year.  

What is UNCLOS 1982? 

  • The ‘Law of the Sea Treaty’, formally known as United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) was adopted in 1982 to establish jurisdictional limits over the ocean areas. 
  • The convention defines a distance of 12 nautical miles from the baseline as Territorial Sea limit and a distance of 200 nautical miles distance as Exclusive Economic Zone limit. 
  • It provides for technology and wealth transfer from developed to underdeveloped nations and requires parties to implement regulations and laws to control marine pollution. 
  • India became a signatory to the UNCLOS in 1982. 

UNCLOS created three new institutions 

  • International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea – It is an independent judicial body established by UNCLOS to adjudicate disputes arising out of the convention. 
  • International Seabed Authority – It is a UN body set up to regulate the exploration and exploitation of marine non-living resources of oceans in international waters.  
  • Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf –  It facilitates the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) in respect of the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. 

About ASEAN 

  • ASEAN was founded in 1967 (by ASEAN Declaration at Bangkok, Thailand) by Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines with the aim of containing communism in their region. 
  • ASEAN Member nations : A total of 10-nations – Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines. 
  • The Secretariat of ASEAN is located at Jakarta, Indonesia. 
  • India, a leader of the NAM, which also leaned towards the Soviet Union, wasn’t enthusiastic about what it saw as a pro-US bloc in Asia. The year 2017 marked the 50 years of ASEAN. 
  • East Asia Summit (EAS) : A total of 18-nations – ASEAN (10 nations) + (China, Japan, South Korea) + (India, Australia, New Zealand) + (Russia, US) 
  • ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) : ARF is a formal, official, multilateral, dialogue in the Asia Pacific region.  
  • Participants: All EAS members (18 nations) +Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Mongolia, Canada and EU.  
  • Objectives : To foster dialogue and consultation, and to promote CBMs and preventive diplomacy in the region. The ARF met for the first time in 1994. 
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