China has been presenting a 1947 map to support its claims of sole control over the South China Sea for many years. However, portions of it are also claimed by five other nations, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. In 2016, an international court rejected Beijing's claims. Now, the United States has formally backed that judgment for the first time.
Tensions in the South China Sea have been building for several years. State and non-state actors have been involved in maritime conflicts, and standoffs and stare downs have resulted in the use of water cannons, ramming, and the sinking of ships.
Along with the already hazardous maritime environment, ongoing cyber campaigns and simultaneous airborne intimidation make the situation worse. Six parties with overlapping claims are involved in the territorial issue, but China's disproportionate weight, strength, and growing assertiveness in these several areas present a special challenge to its smaller neighbors.
The South China Sea: Realities and Responses in Southeast Asia, a new paper from the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), is released in this context. Through the eyes of knowledgeable specialists from the four Southeast Asian claimant states—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam—the research assesses the South China Sea conflict. It also includes a look at Indonesia's position as an interested and impacted party.
The five essays in this paper assess the countries' fundamental stances as well as their methods for handling conflicts and settling disputes in the South China Sea. In their writing, the authors assess the following:
1. Allowances and constraints of domestic politics in their respective countries;
2. Major risks and best practical outcome(s) in light of ongoing developments;
3. Role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in mitigating conflict; and
4. Impact extra-regional players can or do have on the dispute.
5. The report also proposes a set of practical policy recommendations for consideration by ASEAN states on pathways ahead for dispute management in the South China Sea.
About 90% of the 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea is claimed by China using a "nine-dash line," which it bases on nautical records from dynastic times and which other governments prize for its fisheries and undersea fossil fuel potential. The exclusive economic zones of several countries were pierced by the nine dashes.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is situated in The Hague, published a judgement rejecting China's claims as being unsupported by international law. China rejected the decision back then, and it did so once more in July of this year.
While the court itself lacks enforcement powers, the five other Asian states that contest China's expansive nine-dash line lack the military might or economic weight to compel China to comply with the arbitral verdict.
China's pursuit of offshore resources in parts of the South China Sea is "completely unlawful", US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said. He denounced Beijing's "campaign of bullying to control" the potentially energy-rich contested waters.
The United States "deliberately distorts facts and international law," according to China, which has been constructing military outposts on man-made islands in the region for years.
The remarks made by Mr. Pompeo coincide with deteriorating ties between China and a number of other nations. It's uncertain whether the US will take any fresh measures to support its position.
Mr. Pompeo denounced China's claims on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, saying Beijing had "no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region".
He said the US, which has previously said it does not take sides in territorial disputes, rejected Beijing's claims to waters off Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
"Any [People's Republic of China] action to harass other states' fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters - or to carry out such activities unilaterally - is unlawful," he said.
Source: AsiaSociety,org, VOAnews.com, BBC.com