Located to the south of China, the eponymous South China Sea is a hotbed of confrontation not only between the superpowers, USA and China, but China and all other countries in the region resentful of China’s assertions of dominance over it.
China lays claim over almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring rights of other countries – Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam – and has ignored a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated most of its claims.
There have been several instances of confrontation or friction between China and these countries over activities by China’s fishing vessels, the Coast Guard and Navy within areas lying in the economic zones of these countries.
Reasons for China to Dominate or Control South China Sea
Why a country seeks to dominate others rather than follow a policy of just taking care of its own affairs has been a long-standing issue that has cost many wars in the past.
For Seeking Geo Dominance:
Dominating the South China Sea is central to the ambitions of China eager to assert its global power status.
As mentioned above, the South China Sea lies south of China. It is a part of the Pacific Ocean. To its, West is the Indochinese peninsula, mainly Vietnam, Malaysia on the Southwest, Brunei and Indonesia on the South, the Philippines on its Southeast, and Taiwan on the Northeast end.
To the North of this is the East China Sea where Korea and Japan are China’s neighbors.
For Access to Sea for Maritime Gains:
Access to seas for maritime trade and commerce, and a naval presence, has historically been a matter of concern for aspiring powers.
It was for the erstwhile Soviet Union, and it is for present-day Russia. It is, in no small measure, for China.
While its access to the Pacific Ocean East is fairly open, for accessing the seas and oceans in the East it needs free access to, and through, the Strait of Malacca – a very narrow channel between Indonesia and Malaysia.
Only through this can China enter the Indian Ocean, unless it takes a long detour through the north of Australia.
For En-cashing the Natural Resources
Besides, the South China Sea is rich in natural resources: it has oil, it has gas, it has fish, it has clams, and it is one of the busiest maritime highways in the world.
When China is seeking to control and exploit oil and gas reserves in Africa, it can hardly be expected to ignore opportunities in its immediate neighbourhood.
How is China the most dominant power in the South China Sea?
As is typical of China, it provokes and dares others to act against it, stopping just short of open conflict or war or giving others any grounds for it: it just pushes enough to make it the “new normal” that suits itself and hurts others.
Their Territories Claimed:
Just as it has nibbled away at India’s territory, it has laid claim to over 3.5 million square kilometres of water between Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. A detail of the territory claimed and more is available as assignment help on Google news.
Their Disregard for International Norms:
Thumbing a nose at diplomatic norms and international law, it proceeded to occupy reefs in the Spratly and Parcel islands and carried out massive constructions, transforming the terrain.
Pushing Their Defence Projects
Seven of them are now artificial island fortresses, ideal strategic locations for placing warships, combat aircraft and missiles, and to dominate the airspace and sea. It also gives China the capability to choke supplies to others in the South China Sea.
Asserting Their Power
China has proceeded to assert their power. It is acting against fishermen and fishing boats from other countries, their coast guard often ramming them. It is carrying out explorations in areas lying in the territorial waters of its neighbours. For all practical purposes, China has restricted the rights of its neighbours to exploit the resources here.
Holding Their Military Exercises
China, of late, has also been conducting military exercises in the South China Sea showing its naval supremacy to the countries that have already claimed their supremacy on Sea. Beijing is ready to take claim and convey to the developed world and its partners, that Beijing is ready to protect their interests in the region.
This can also be summed as China’s effort to restore the lost faith of its people at the same time. China’s economy has faced a blow on account of the trade war with the developed countries in this region. And the supremacy at the South China Sea around Taiwan and Hong Kong are perfect for proving their naval strength in the region.
Their Claims over Coastlines
China lays claim to the entire South China Sea right up to the coastlines of countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, even though United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) gives them rights to vast swathes of the sea.
These were assertions of dominance and a warning to others or daring them to act against these violations of international laws.
According to the Asia Power Index, 2020 (API, 2020), the USA, although geographically outside the region, is still at the top with 81.6 points and dominating in military power and areas like economic and security alliances and cultural influence.
However, China has caught up fast and during COVID 19 pandemic recovery, it has taken a lead not just over others but the US too.
With their GDP on the rise whereas at other places it reflects a dip, it surely reflects their success story.
Only in the military powers, US continues to rank higher against China as it has bilateral and multilateral security alliances with countries like Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and others, and with QUAD that includes the US, Japan, Australia, and India.
With a cross-examination given above, it is very difficult not claiming that China remains the most dominant player in the world.