There are continuously rising tensions in the South China Sea. The disputes result from the longstanding disputes over the sovereignty of the shoals, atolls and the reefs that demarcate the sea, covering an area of about 1.2million square miles. These disputes ally to the massive overlapping claims between nations over the maritime space and the interstate contention of the space and control of the sea is steadily rising over the years. The attitude that China has is quite accommodating and very flexible, and that worked a long way in trying to put the tensions under control, but that has not always remained the constant case over the last one decade. The disputes have become more resilient and as a result, China opted to retrieve its earlier motive of seeking to consolidate its jurisdictional claims and the expansion of its military outreach in a bid that aims at undermining other nations’ claims through diplomacy and coerciveness.
The longstanding disputes between nations for the maritime space in the South China Sea emanate from some factors that arouse the nations’ interest in the sea. One of these factors of interest is the first global commerce that takes place in the sea. The sea accommodates vital arteries of the imports and exports business between China, the United States, and other bordering states and it is a very sensitive economic hub. The sea is economically vital to such countries as Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei which have coastlines on the sea and there have been various efforts to resolve the disputes between these claimants which always proved ineffective. The principal regional organization that includes all the four claimants above has for long engaged in diplomatic negotiation with the People’s Republic of China but the efforts have proven futile all along. In the year 2002, the organization and China agreed to a Declaration of Conduct to keep off the vacant features in the South China Sea, but the effectiveness of the declaration is inexistent (Schofield and Storey 2009). The claimant countries are still putting up their infrastructural features on the islands in the sea without meaningful cooperation from the other states.
Secondly, South China Sea is vital owing to the regional and extra-regional naval operations which take place in the sea. The sea is a significant theater for the regional navies and also to the navies from beyond the region, from the US, as they depend on it very much for the rapid deployment between the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Due to the renewed assertiveness in the sea by China, the United States took a keener interest in the sea and its economic and strategic motives in the Southeast Asian region. As a result of these interests in the Southeast Asian region, the US deployed more naval personnel in the sea and also increased its capacity building support for the nations in the area around the South China Sea. However, the United States has its continued support of a negotiated and agreed settlement system intact.
Moreover, the South China Sea is a very significant source of food as it has a globally recognized fishery. Statistically, the fishery in the sea accounts for a tenth of the world’s total landed catch which makes the sea an important feature in ensuring food security to the people living in the coastal regions. The sea, therefore, is a primary source of the interest that each claimant nation has in it. The other reason why the South China Sea is vital is that it requires very vibrant efforts to conserve the environment in and around it. The sea needs protection from degradation, and the nations have never conclusively set up the right organization which can take up the environmental protection responsibilities. The marine life, which also acts as a source of food remains endangered if the environment in and around the sea undergoes degradation.
- Schofield C. & Storey I. The South China Sea dispute: Increasing Stakes and Rising Tensions The Jameson Foundation, 2009.