Security and International Politics in the South China Sea: Towards a Co-operative management regime
Ralf Emmers, Sam Batman
The marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea, is an important maritime trade route through which at least USD 3 billion in trade is shipped each year.
Bordered on the northern side by the southern part of the People’s Republic of China, the 8 countries of Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, collectively termed by the geographical name of the Indochinese peninsula lie on its western side.
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Taiwan is on the eastern side while the Philippines borders the South China Sea on the northwestern side. The three Indonesian islands form the southern border with the South China Sea.
The area has been a flashpoint due to the Beijing claim over almost all South China Sea. Which are contested by the other countries of the region. To bolster its presence in the sea, China has built naval and air bases throughout the sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China in a plea brought by the Philippines in 2016 which Beijing refused to comply with.
The enormous untapped resources of oil and gas in the sea have made it a lucrative prize for not only China to claim but also the other regional countries’ fervent claimants of it as well. That is why China refuses to permit any foreign militaries or reconnaissance flights in its Special Economic Zone (EEZ).
While Washington believes that the other regional claimant countries do not need to notify about any military or other movements in the sea to China referring to the UN Convention of Law and Sea (UNCLOS) under Freedom of Navigation.
The collection of articles in the book discusses different dimensions of the South China Sea conflict which has brought two powers, China and the USA, and their allies in the region to a tense on-off situation for them.
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The very first introductory chapters of the book analyses the new emerging mechanism by all countries of the region via the ASEAN forum along with China to manage and cooperate after years of tensions and geopolitical rivalries.
The very first chapter analyses claims of the all the claimants over this sea with a special focus on the Spratly Archipelago and how they assert their presence over it through diplomacy and military.
The 2nd chapter details that this South China Sea would have been used to serve as a measuring indicator to check and calibrate the role and behaviour of Beijing in world politics.
The 3rd chapter traces the Chinese claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea since the 20th century.
The Chinese admiral Sa Zhenbing led several naval expeditions in these waters of the South China Sea to assert the sovereignty of his country on them. Admiral worked with the four political and governmental setups of Qing, Beiyang, Nationalists, and then finally the Communists.
The Japanese attack and capture of Manchuria, now divided into three Chinese provinces, and then moving further inside the Chinese mainland further weakened the Chinese position.
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The Imperial Navy of Japan caught several Chinese islands which were later recaptured by the Kuomintang nationalists from them. Many of them are still controlled by the Republic of China, more commonly known by the simple name of Taiwan.
The most strategic ones are the Pratas and Taiping islands with a mutual distance of 690 kilometers are still in control of Taiwan in the South China Sea over whom Beijing protests and claims its sovereignty.
Chapter 4th in part two deals with the non-traditional security issues of the sea. This sea is an abundant provider of fish and marine foods to all countries of the region giving not only food but also economic support and livelihood both to individuals and national economies.
The 5th chapter explains how all claimants to the South China Sea signed a Declaration in 2002 for peaceful cooperation in the region. The Mischief incident of 1995 between China and the Philippines and the resultant regional and international concern over this and to prevent such issues likely to appear in future, China and the ten ASEAN countries devised this framework for themselves.
The oil and gas of the South China Sea are calculated to be 11 billion barrels of oil with 190 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves respectively. Exploration could only be carried out with cooperation and give-and-take gestures!
Chapter 6 deals with the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by Beijing and ASEAN member states on 2 November 2002. With hope from all signing members to resolve their disputes peacefully and work cooperatively.
The usefulness and success of the ASEAN in handling and evolving a domestic regional mechanism for themselves is a copy for all to emulate.
The Treaty of 1976, commonly called the ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), is pined out for the creation of these friendly norms in the region.
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Though following more rules for mutual respect and coexistence than identity politics of being of the same race and region, this ASEAN way of teamwork and problem-resolving is more acceptable than other way-outs.
The book’s 7th chapter focuses on the Spratly Archipelago who’s five claimants, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, have rued tense relations among themselves leading to the Mischief incident of 1995 where Beijing intruded into the Philippines Mischief coral reef island and created its fortifications on it. But in recent years there has been less tendency to consider this Spratly Archipelago as a flashpoint due to the involvement of claimants, their friendly diplomatic gestures, and forbearance to avoid any active hostility for regional security and peace.
China being the most dominant and strong country in the region has some dilemmas for itself. It claims nearly on almost all South China Sea. The Beijing claimed 9-dash line demarcates nearly 80 per cent of all South China Sea to itself. Any slight move, whether diplomatic or military, may make all others uneasy in the region. This is the focus of the 8th chapter of this book.
The 10th chapter traces the historical background of the cooperation in the region and the South China Sea. The turning point came when China and the USA established diplomatic ties with each other. China was now moving slightly its iron curtain to the outside world.
The breakthrough came with Deng Xiaoping when he embarked on a new journey of modernization of China by adapting the foreign policy of the country to (1) ideological modification from the communist era. (2) Economic and industrial development of China in all spheres. (3) Developing friendly relations with all countries and resolving disputes peacefully with neighboring ones for political and economic leverage for China.
The 11th chapter hopes that despite so much progress and achievements, it has yet to travel a long distance for itself.
The 12th chapter elaborates on the importance of Track Two diplomacy in the South China Sea region in evolving a mechanism for the peace and stability of the region since 1989.
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The 13th chapter hinges on the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties signed in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in 2002 between China and other ASEAN countries to avoid any armed conflict and to resolve the disputes among the disputants.
The region saw nearly armed-like engagements in 1974, 1988 and in 1995 respectively. Any tension and instability in the sea may affect this international sea route hurting the world economy and fuel supply overall which passes through the Strait of Malacca, an important sea route in the region.
The limitations of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), its shortcomings in the applicability in the South China Sea and how it could be applied along with the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea are delved in this 14th chapter. How to develop, adopt, and modify if needed, the existing legal regimes, and rules, for the peace and cooperation of the region.
The 272 pages are the best editorial selection by the editors to give a well and deep understanding of regional security and politics.
Murtaza Kaleem an educator, freelance writer, movie-watcher, melodious music listener and an avid reader about International Relations and World Politics with a decade long experience of education and teaching to students of different sociological and economic backgrounds. My social links are;