South China Sea Conflict? No Way
Image Credit: Vranitzky

South China Sea Conflict? No Way


The South China Sea issue – and China’s position on it – have been the subject of much deliberation, especially since the ASEAN Regional Forum Meeting in Hanoi last July. Indeed, it’s widely believed that the South China Sea will likely emerge as a conflict hotspot in the coming years.

Evidence of this can be found in the heated rhetoric exchanged between parties to the dispute – most notably, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. A declaration by the United States that it has a ‘national interest’ in the region, meanwhile, was seen as a commitment to take an active part, much to Chinese chagrin. In recent weeks, statements by Chinese officials reasserting China’s ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the South China Sea, and warnings for India against investing in the region, are seen as signs of Chinese aggressiveness that could precipitate conflict.

Suggestions for greater Indian involvement in the South China Sea disputes are made on the grounds that India must be forceful in its dealings with China. The continuation of ONGC Videsh Limited’s (OVL) investments in Vietnamese energy fields is certainly advisable. In fact, there’s nothing to indicate that the Indian government is thinking otherwise. OVL’s presence in Vietnam isn’t a recent phenomenon. Its first joint venture for offshore oil and natural gas exploration in Vietnam’s Lan Tay field, along with Petro Vietnam and BP, became functional in 2003. Deals for the investments now in the headlines were signed in May 2006; this is a project that won’t be halted because of oblique Chinese statements.

But what’s worrying is the suggestion that Indian involvement should extend to taking an active part in the territorial disputes themselves, and that India should actively extend its naval presence – either to protect OVL’s investments or to protect the sea lines of communication. A closer bilateral relationship with Vietnam, Vietnamese rhetoric on the South China Sea disputes and its history of standing up to big powers are offered as the rationale for India to engage and arm Vietnam to win a war in the South China Sea.

These suggestions to recalibrate Indian policy towards the South China Sea and its relationship with Vietnam are premature at best. Despite the rhetoric, conflict in the South China Sea may well not be inevitable. If the history of dialogue between the parties is any indication, then current tensions are likely to result in forward movement. In the aftermath of statements by the United States, and skirmishes over fishing vessels, ASEAN and China agreed upon the Guidelines on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea at the Bali Summit in July 2010. And recent tensions may well prod the parties towards a more binding code of conduct. This isn’t to suggest that territorial claims and sovereignty issues will be resolved, but certainly they can become more manageable to prevent military conflict.

There’s a common interest in making the disputes more manageable, essentially because, nationalistic rhetoric notwithstanding, the parties to the dispute recognize that there are real material benefits at stake. A disruption of maritime trade through the South China Sea would entail economic losses – and not only for the littoral states. No party to the dispute, including China, has thus far challenged the principle of freedom of navigation for global trade through the South China Sea. The states of the region are signatories to the UNCLOS, which provides that ‘Coastal States have sovereign rights in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with respect to natural resources and certain economic activities, and exercise jurisdiction over marine science research and environmental protection’ but that ‘All other States have freedom of navigation and over flight in the EEZ, as well as freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines.’ The prospect of threats to SLOCS thus seems somewhat exaggerated.

RP Defender
January 22, 2012 at 20:45

why is the Philippines open why are we still in the 19th century what’s wrong with uou people?

November 1, 2011 at 16:11

@Huang: I grew up in a communist country and then live here in US. I know pretty well two different systems. Whatever you think that I have false information is not correct. I heard or read all facts you just mention through news or internet; but whatever I said here you may not read anywhere due to your social system. My society where I live in is pretty much better than your society; not just on material standard, but also moral! I also know my society still have errors and limits, but this society can change for better day by day. Let discuss each question you wrote previously.

Why was the disputes occuring now and not before? Long story, please patience! Chinese navy is stronger now; need more energy; great potential gas and oil in this area; vietnamese navy is weak and no super power backup as in the cold war. Chinese sovereignty in this area is only a reason; china will reach further to confront with US in the near future! Control this sea route, china can strangle US and her important allies: korea, japan, india. Nazi german had similar reason to pass the Rhine river to protect her speaking german people, and didn’t stop there. Only a child can believe china will rise peaceful after controlling a sea route that doesn’t belong to her naturally!

China already builds her port in cambodia, srilanka; peaceful now, but can be for military anytime. For what? In playing chess, people move every piece at a time to strategic position for a purpose: choking the opponent. US will stop china early before it is too late. Parcellel, Spratley islands are only reasons above a boiling vocano. A war in south china sea is better than at Hawaii some day. At the early stage, US can mobilize her allies, thus reduce her casualties and maximize profit. Vietnam doesn’t want to be the first ignite a powder keg, even she stocks up missles and warships and woo other powers to this region. Phillipine and vietnam want peace; that is why they are first to show a polite gesture; not because they feel guilty (occupy chinese islands) as chinese tv broadcast!

Who set up the ratio of exchange in the international market? The most advanced countries in technique and adjust by a free market. Example: a tractor $100,000; a ton of rice $500, huge different huh? Most advanced countries don’t have advantage in nature and vice versa. If the difference is reduced, then the poor will be rich, and the rich will be poorer. US intervenes to maintain its power and force others to compete fair: any country want to be rich, much labor her own brain, not act like brigand!

Cravola Cao
October 31, 2011 at 11:18

@Linh My

Being an “American warrior” living in Vietnam now, I bet you know your Vietnamese friends more than I do. Vietnam has a military tradition, so I think they respect “warriors” like you. Thank you for the “links”, I will search for those books.

Vietnam is a beautiful country.
Enjoy the peace, the sun, the beach and good Vietnamese cuisine.

October 31, 2011 at 00:57

@Huang: For example: yangzi wrote about being near Tibet and observed the wonderfull life there. That contradicts what a Canadian lady, who had been in Tibet multiple times, told me.

October 30, 2011 at 18:25

china bigotry thinks vietnam is inferior therefore it cant never be true friends. look at china and russia they dont get along because they look down on each other

October 30, 2011 at 16:34

@Huang: I know you will laugh me as I mentioned Nostradamus. It is not supertitious as you think. He is a famous figure of the western history, cradle of logic thinking and science! This movie was shown few times on channel 6 in US by BBC long time ago if I am not wrong. Do you think citizens of the most advanced country of the world are supertitious? You can use to watch this movie (in many parts), don’t stray into other Nostradamus movies. The movie had a big budget; people from a logic thinking society will not spend much money for such ‘rubbish’ if there is no reason for it. He predicted french revolution, death of Louis 16, Napoleon, Hitler, cold war, spaceshift, rocket, 9/11, the rise of china and troubles ahead. I wish he is wrong this time BUT he corrected many times in the past and the current foreign policy of china does makes me wonder. We can skip on another topic.

Why do china lower her tone recently about 9 dotted line? US doesn’t let china control this sea alone. This route is crucial for south korea, japan to transport oil from the middle east. It is illegitimate for such claim from china. China has no choice and she waits for an opportunity by changing temporarily her behavior. Such attitude will not promise peace!

You may watch broadcast from chinese TV, what do you think? It distorts the fact and quite hubris. Vietnam will compromise with china on this problem but it seems china will not satisfy until it gets 80% of this sea. China always want a bigger chunk: yield or fight. This tug of war can be out of balance if china has an advantage in military or sudden natural events knock out US!

Kung Pao
October 30, 2011 at 14:24

@Linh My : “… that respects China’s East Asian neighbors as equals”

It’s like flogging a dead horse !

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