Of late, the situation is turning from bad to worse with China staging 'live firing drills' and the like primarily to display its muscle. The firing drill, for instance, saw in 'action' over 100 Naval Ships, a number of aircraft, missile launch battalions of the Second Artillery Corps, information warfare troops as well as a nuclear force.
South China Sea extends to about 35, 00,000 sq km, and contains over 250 small islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars, most of which have no indigenous people. It accounts for a third of the world's shipping transiting through the Pacific. Its seabed holds vast reserves of gas and oil.
No surprise, therefore, China stakes a claim to the South China Sea (SCS). So do several countries like Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei around the SCS. The dispute is becoming intense by the day, and has begun to pose a grave threat to peace with China flexing its muscles every now and then in a bid to show that it owns the South China Sea.
There is no gain in saying the fact that the South China Sea dispute has the potential to erupt into an ugly and a serious confrontation. This very possibility has brought in the US to the SCS some five years ago. In July 2010, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Beijing to resolve the long simmering dispute peacefully. China responded with a snub and homily that the US should keep out.
While the Chinese interest and the interests of other nations of the region in South China Sea riches - a wealth of unexploited minerals, oils, gas and enormous fisheries -- is understandable, it is the Chinese quest for dominance that has been posing a grave threat to peace and security.
About US $ 5 trillion worth of trade passes through these sea waters every year. This sea-lane accounts for 50 percent of the global oil tanker shipments, making it one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
The short point is that dominance in the SCS region offers the dominant country an opportunity to securing sea lanes to the open Pacific. This scenario is not even remotely acceptable to the US.
An emerging flash point is China's campaign to reclaim land in the disputed Spartly Island of the South China Sea. China has reclaimed more land in the area than hitherto known, according to a new report by the U.S. Defense Department on Beijing's controversial island-building campaign. The total land thus reclaimed is put at about 2000 acres and it is viewed as a clear expression of Chinese arrogance.
Both Japan and Vietnam have sternly opposed the Chinese misadventures. Tokyo has even announced a possible Japan-US joint patrol in the South China Sea.
One country, though quite tiny in comparison to China, Philippines, has upped its ante against Beijing. It reportedly signed a new defence agreement with the US last year. The Philippine troops are believed to have conducted drills in the area along with the American forces.
The Philippines has also been making concerted efforts to place the dispute in the global domain by sensitizing the world opinion to the hazards of Chinese dominance in the South China Sea through conferences and seminars. The basic thrust of the Philippines' case is that China has no legal basis for claiming these waters.
One such conference organized by the Philippines mission in New Delhi highlighted two basic facts. One it is not a territorial dispute as China contends. Two it is a pure maritime dispute involving interpretation/ application of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). The Chinese action has left Manila with no other alternative but to seek international arbitration. It is demanding a ruling on its Maritime entitlements of various islands and reefs more so since day-to-day fishing has become difficult for its coastal people as a result of China's claims and threats.
The Chinese occupation and reclamation of the SCS Islands and reefs means a loss of Executive Economic Zones for different countries in the region. Heavy losers are Philippines (80%), Malaysia (80%) and Vietnam (50%). It is feared that China will establish its naval base in Luconia Shoals.
Reportedly, China has been hastily producing a large number of warships. Already it is believed to have 25 Type 056 Corvettes; just 20 of these vessels are enough to control the entire South China Sea.
As per the UNCLOS, no country has sovereign right over the high seas, which are for everyone, and land-locked countries have the right to fish in those waters. For appropriating the high Seas, special permissions are required.