South China Sea Dispute – Nine Dash Line

Before understanding what is nine-dash line let’s understand why the south china sea is important internationally. South china sea is the marginal sea part of the western Pacific Ocean extending from Strait of Malacca in southeast to the Strait of Taiwan in northeast. China, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam share the same waterfront in the south China sea. It is being estimated by UNCTAD that 1/3rd of the total global maritime trade that is around $ 5.3 trillion passes through this region. Apart from this US estimated that around 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are present under the south China sea.

According to China’s estimate, there is a total of 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas under the undiscovered area of the sea. Also, it contributes 10% of the total global fishery production. Geo-strategically this region is the part of Indo pacific and at the present time, it is considered as one of the most crucial areas of the zone of conflict as well as the arena of great power of competition among the various nations.

To understand why there is a territorial dispute in such an important region let’s start with the history from where it all started. The territorial claim on this sea can be dated from the time of World War II wherein in 1939 Japan claimed the Paracel and Spratly Island for military purposes. Though after they lost the war, they have to leave the island. That’s where China came into play in 1946 China started the construction on the Spratly Island and by 1947 it also took the control of woody island of the Paracel island.

After that China vaguely drew the 11-dash line in ‘U’ shape where it claim over most of the South China sea. A few years later in the early 1950, China excluded the Gulf of Tonkin and from there Nine dash line originated which covers almost 90% of the South China sea. Later on, the surrounding countries also started to claim these islands, for instance, Paracel island is claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam as for the Spratly Island it is being claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Philippines and similarly for Scarborough shoal is claimed by China, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

To solve these long-standing territorial disputes in 1982 the UN convention on the law of sea where every country has the right to claim 12 nautical miles from their continental shelves as their territory and 200 nautical miles as exclusive economic zones (EEZ) for activities like fishing, mining etc. The surrounding countries of the South China sea follow this law but China claims that it is an exception to this law as it follows the nine-dash line.

Later on in 2002, ASEAN and China came together to sign the Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to keep disputes away. However, it didn’t achieve the desired outcomes. Since 2014 through a gradual process China has been building artificial islands in the middle of the South China Sea for instance heaven reef, Johnson south reef, and fiery cross reef that is what were once underwater reefs are now sandy islands complete with airfields, roads, buildings, and missile systems. In less than two years, China has turned seven reefs and parts of Paracel and Spratly islands into military bases in the South China Sea, one of the most contentious bodies of water in the world. By turning these islands into military bases, the Chinese are now able to support hundreds of ships, sustaining their presence in the South China Sea. They are using fishing boats, surveillance ships, and navy destroyers to set up blockades around other countries and defend their own.

This is all done very cautiously and in small steps in order to avoid sparking a wider conflict. The tensions in this region are building up with the passage of time. As China deploys more of its military to these bases, other countries are getting nervous and building up their own islands. Since then, tensions have built around who rightfully owns the South China Sea. The heart of the dispute lies in the Paracel and Spratly islands which are considered as the heart of the South China sea. They’ve asserted their claims by putting small buildings, ports, and even some people on what are essentially rocks in the middle of the ocean.

These Islands are very important as whichever country can successfully claim them can extend its EEZ to include them, thus gaining miles of precious sovereign territory. Later in the year 2016 when the International Court of Justice refuted the claim of China on the South China sea in the case The Republic of Philippines v. the people’s republic of China (popularly known as south China sea arbitration). Though China refuses to follow this verdict of the International Court of Justice. We can scrutinize from the last two years China has been trying to show its power and claim over the south China sea through its military presence in the region. To counter this claim of China USA, Germany, France, UK, Australia and Japan have deployed their naval forces in the south China region to show their presence in the region. USA has also conducted joint military patrols with the Philippines, Japan, Australia, and Indonesia. India have also deployed its four warships in this region that are INS Ranjvijay, INS Shivalik, INS Kadmatt, INS Kora. Apart from this India’s ONGC Videsh has also sustained its exploration efforts in the EEZ of Vietnam despite opposition from China. India have also initiated many maritime exercises with other countries like Singapore (SIMBEX), Vietnam (passage exercises), USA, and Japan (MALABAR exercise). India, USA, Japan, and Australia have also established the QUAD initiative in the South China sea. So, we can say that the arena of the South China sea has provided the ground for the nations to show case their militaria power and somewhere creating the major zone of conflict. If not any strict measures are taken the region will eventually turn into a war zone among various powerful countries.

This article has been written by Aayushi Jain, B.B.A. LL. B. Student at Banasthali Vidyapith, Rajasthan.

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