Beijing is in news everywhere – with current dispute at Sino-Indian border to imposing of National Security Law in Hong Kong – it looks like China has a big trick up its sleeve, not necessarily a critically acclaimed one at that. The current geopolitical scenario in Asia is at a very sublime point where critical developments are on a watch. But one area, far from any bird’s eye watch, where China is permanent player with perpetual theatrical war situation is South China Sea. An area of shared water boundaries that occasionally witnesses nautical muscle-flexing over disputed tiffs of claims.
The rival countries – Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Philippines – lay claims on the water of South China Sea, wrangling over the territories for centuries. But past few years the tension has sky-rocketed as China has exponentially increased its military valor, emerging as a chief power player in Asia.
The chief advantage of South China Sea territory, that makes it of such great importance geopolitically, is its setting in terms of location, military advantages and strategic resources. This makes the possibility of armed conflicts in region very high, that can’t be ruled out.
Location advantage lies in the fact that this region witnesses over one-third of world’s shipping transporting through it, approximating to over $3 trillion in trade every year. This makes this sea-faring stretch the second most used in the world.
Military advantage is the most highlighted feature of this territory. The country having control over this naval route will be the one taking all the military benefits this region has to offer. This makes South China sea the pivot of geopolitical scenario in Asia.
Strategic resources form another desirable plus. This region has over 7.7 billion barrels of oil reserves, with estimated 28 billion barrels total. Natural gas reserves approximate 266 trillion cubic feet.
Nine Dash Line and Claims of China
South China Sea has been the chip in China’s pocket ever since its rising as a global power. Beijing, being in a strong position, has a hold on critical islands in the water territory. These islands give Beijing a strategic advantage of extending its authority over the territory, irrespective of the rights of other countries.China has been hooking up on its power play and extending its prowess in the region with naval patrols and building on islands.
Nine Dash Line has been a concern for countries in region, which was unilaterally decided by China. The Nine Dash Line stretches hundreds of miles south and east from China’s southern-most province of Hainan. This line was declared in 2009 by Beijing, professing South China Sea as its territorial waters. This claim is neither maintained by a treaty nor is legally governed, making it fragile and tenuous. But this “claim” and “authority” has brought China enough time to get things in order for its own political strengthening in critical situations.
South China Sea also acts as a border shield for China providing national security. China’s second-strike nuclear submarines hold “sanctuary” in the region which pose as Beijing’s insurance in case there is an attack on country. China also takes the route through South China Sea to its benefit with its 80% of energy imports and 39.5% of total trade passing through it.
Past decade has witnessed China coercing pressure on four major fronts – East China Sea, South China Sea, China-India border and on US regarding freedom of navigation being granted.
Even though India is not an active player in South China Sea, the impact on country is quite huge if Beijing succeeds in its attempts to gain full control of South China Sea. India’s $200 billion worth of trade makes its way through the territory with thousands of citizens working, studying and investing in China and the neighbouring ASEAN countries. This makes the geopolitical dynamics in South China Sea of strategic importance to India as well.
The dynamics of South China Sea are potentially going to affect the countries with interest in the territory as will the other countries in Asia. If China gains full control of South China Sea, it is going to completely change the geopolitical state of affairs, making China as the potential power leader.
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