South China Sea in spotlight ahead of Shangrila Dialogue


NEW DELHI: South China Sea region where China has created artificial islands violating international law is once again in the spotlight ahead of the next edition of the Shangrila Dialogue one of region’s key geopolitical dialogue in Singapore between May 31-June 2.

The Chinese foreign ministry shot back last Thursday at a US Senate proposal to punish Chinese individuals and entities for “illegal and dangerous” activities in the South China Sea. Both the American and Chinese Defence Ministers will be present at the Shangrila Dialogue (SLD) this year giving a high-profile nature to the event.

Presence of Chinese Defence Minister at the SLD along with US Defence Secretary– signalling balanced approach by organisers of the dialogue – can be an opportunity to explore cooperation in fisheries and disaster management in the South China Sea region. The Modi government is also expected to depute a senior Minister or official for the Dialogue.

Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign ministry, said the “legislation violates the basic norms of international law and international relations and the Chinese side, of course, firmly objects”. “We urge the US side not to proceed the deliberation of the legislation, in order not to bring new disruption to the China-US relations,” Lu told a regular press briefing.

Marco Rubio, Republican Senator who is leading the drive to introduce the legislation, told Hong Kong based South China Morning Post, that a bipartisan group of senators would reintroduce the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Bill on Thursday. The bill would entail the government to seize US-based financial assets and revoke or deny US visas to anyone engaged in “actions or policies that threaten the peace, security or stability” of areas in the South China Sea that are contested by one or more members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The bill would also require the US secretary of state to provide Congress with a report every six months identifying any Chinese person or company involved in construction or development projects in contested areas of the sea. Activities targeted by the bill include land reclamation, the making of islands, lighthouse construction and the building of mobile communication infrastructure.

The SCMP quoted Andrew Thompson, a former US defence department official as saying, “the introduction of the act reflects the bipartisan outrage over China’s actions in the maritime areas on its periphery, as well as Congress’s frustration that the [Trump] Administration’s response has been limited to freedom of navigation operations and rhetoric”.

Earlier head of the US Navy warned China that its coastguard and maritime militia would be treated in the same way as the nation’s navy in the South China Sea. China’s coastguard fleet of large patrol ships has more than doubled to more than 130 in the past nine years, making it the largest coastguard force in the world. China considers at least 80 per cent of the South China Sea to be its sovereign territory, a claim disputed by other regional powers.

Earlier this year US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that China was blocking energy development in the South China Sea through “coercive means”, preventing Southeast Asian countries from accessing more than $2.5 trillion in recoverable energy reserves. Addressing a meet of the top energy firm executives and oil ministers in Houston, Texas, Pompeo had criticised “China’s illegal island building in international waterways”, insisting that it was not “simply a security matter”.

But in the words of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi China is accelerating efforts to reach an agreement with the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to avoid conflicts over the South China Sea. Asean and China agreed at their summit in Singapore last November to the early conclusion of a code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea. The code will set out norms of behaviour in the contested waters. Asean and China have been working to fully implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties, the precursor to the COC, since 2002. Negotiations in on the COC began in March last year, following the adoption in 2017 of the framework for the COC.

Military moves by China pose threat to Freedom of Navigation and Freedom for Overflight in SCS. Experts across the world have been repeatedly urging China to uphold UNCLOS in settling SCS disputes. It is important to recall 2016 UNCLOS verdict which went against Chinese claims.

Philippines v. China (PCA case number 2013–19), also known as the South China Sea Arbitration, was an arbitration case brought by the Republic of the Philippines against the People’s Republic of China under Annex VII to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning certain issues in the South China Sea including the legality of China’s “nine-dotted line” claim.

Experts pointed out Hanoi’s partners should cooperate with Vietnam in exploring oil in South China Sea region and advised that China should stop destroying environment in SCS through its activities. Vietnam & Asean have right to access to resources in SCS.

China should stop building floating Nuclear factories in SCS that affect to environment & security in SCS, experts said, adding, US and other powers should continue to patrol FONOP in SCS

India maintains that territorial disputes should be resolved through peaceful means as was done by India and Bangladesh using the mechanisms provided by the UNCLOS, and parties should abide by the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. India supports a peaceful settlement of the dispute. Peaceful means should be used according to the principles of international law, including the UNCLOS.

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