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5 MARCH 2016 


(1 Question)


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1.     China blames the “Pivot to Asia” doctrine of the United States and the Malabar Exercise for the growing tensions the South China Sea, while U.S. asserts that China is responsible for the militarisation of the South China Sea. How can the tensions in South China Sea be minimised?







South China Sea

·        The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometres (1,400,000 sq mi).

·        The area's importance largely results from one-third of the world's shipping sailing through its waters and that it is believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed.

·        The minute South China Sea Islands, collectively an archipelago, number in the hundreds. The sea and its mostly uninhabited islands are subject to competing claims of sovereignty by several countries.


Territorial disputes in the South China Sea

·        Territorial disputes in the South China Sea involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

·        There are disputes concerning both the Spratly and the Paracel islands, as well as maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin and elsewhere. There is a further dispute in the waters near the Indonesian Natuna Islands.

·        The nine-dash line area claimed by the Republic of China, later People's Republic of China which covers most of the South China sea and overlaps Exclusive Economic Zone claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Singapore has reiterated that it is not a claimant state in the South China Sea dispute and therefore allows Singapore to play a neutral role in being a constructive conduit for dialogue among the claimant states.

·        China has undertaken land reclamation in the waters near the Nansha Islands [the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands.


·        The interests of different nations include acquiring fishing areas around the two archipelagos; the potential exploitation of suspected crude oil and natural gas under the waters of various parts of the South China Sea; and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.

·        Shangri-La Dialogue serves as the "Track One" exchange forum on the security issues surrounding Asia-Pacific region including Territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

·        Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific is the "Track Two" dialogue on security issues of Asia-Pacific.


Exercise Malabar

·        Exercise Malabar is a trilateral naval exercise involving the United States, Japan and India as permanent partners. Originally only a bilateral exercise between India and the U.S., Japan became a permanent partner of the exercise in 2015.

·        Past non-permanent participants are Australia and Singapore.

·        The annual Malabar series began in 1992, and includes diverse activities, ranging from fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers, through Maritime Interdiction Operations Exercises


Pivot to Asia

·        The American military and diplomatic 'pivot,' or 'rebalance' toward Asia became a popular buzzword after Hillary Clinton authored America's Pacific Century, in Foreign Policy.

·        It emphasizes the importance of the Asia-Pacific, noting that nearly half of the world's population resides there, making its development vital to American economic and strategic interests.

·        Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. It believes that US economic recovery will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia.

·        Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the nuclear proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region's key players."

·        The 'pivot' strategy, according to Clinton, will proceed along six courses of action:

1.      Strengthening bilateral security alliances;

2.      Deepening America's relationships with rising powers, including China;

3.      Engaging with regional multilateral institutions;

4.      Expanding trade and investment;

5.      Forging a broad-based military presence;

6.      Advancing democracy and human rights.


Tension between USA and China in the South China Sea

·        USA and China have major disputes over maritime rules -- namely, "innocent passage," "freedom of navigation" and "passive settlement of international disputes" -- and also interpreting the UN Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).

·        The United States stresses that it has an absolute freedom of action, including surveillance, monitoring and military exercises in another country's exclusive zone, whereas China thinks that freedom of navigation should not undermine a nearby country's safety, and that other countries' military activities in the zone should be limited.

·        China claims the South China Sea as a Chinese lake. The US contests this, in November 2015 sending naval destroyers within twelve nautical miles of structures built by the Chinese in the Paracel island group.

·        Honor in the arena of the South China Sea is another major factor. Having been a superpower for a long time, America cannot afford to assume a weak stance. But Beijing, with its growing power, is also unable to tolerate U.S. interference at its doorstep.

·        Raising the stakes in the South China Sea is hardly affordable for either side. A deteriorating external environment will affect China's peripheral diplomacy and its "Belt and Road" initiatives, while the struggle with China will cost the United States its global presence sooner.


Steps to minimize tensions in the South China Sea

·        The United States should create a good environment and ratchet down its diplomatic tones. In other words, if it continues to accuse China, the result will just be the opposite of what Washington wishes.

·        China should have a deeper appreciation of how its rise influences its peripheral region and beyond and should explain clearly its objectives in areas such as freedom of navigation and the principles for using military strength. China may also invite the U.S. to conduct joint drills in the South China Sea.

·        The region presents possibilities in jointly preserving maritime safety and regional peace and stability, including anti-piracy, weather forecasts, maritime rescues and navigation passage management.

·        China announced that the land reclamation project on some islands and reefs in the South China Sea had almost been completed and that the next step will involve construction of facilities for the public interest, such as a lighthouse, maritime rescue station, meteorological observation station, maritime research center and first aid service center.

·        Seeing China's goodwill in making its own plans transparent, the United States needs to show reciprocity, for instance, by reducing its frequency of reconnaissance flights along China's coast.

·        Facing the new balance of power in the South China Sea, Washington should remain relatively neutral regarding disputes in the region in exchange for Beijing's assurance of navigation safety and regional peace. Washington should also assess the risks involved with regional disputes since the Philippines and Vietnam are unable to play a big role in helping America contain China and may trigger more conflict.


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