The South China Sea

The South China Sea has always been a disputed geo-political area and topic, so what are the different perspectives of the respective countries involved? [1]

Despite the fact that in every Asian language that directly translates the term “South China Sea”, it must be bizarre to some why it is the sea of “South China” rather than other geographical descriptions namely South Japanese, Western Filipino, Eastern Vietnamese, Northern Malaysian, North Bruneian or indeed, South Taiwanese. Perhaps that is why it is such a disputed area, with the appellation already adding coal to the huge fire of diplomacy in the South East Asian seaboard. I hope to utilise this space to analyse the current affairs and look at different perspectives of the main countries concerned in this political rally, particularly China, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States. This will be discussed with the three main sets of islands: the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands and the Diaoyu Islands, using politics, international relations elements and some historical touches here and there. Again, any constructive comments on how I can improve is always welcome and I hope you enjoy your read here.

The Paracel Islands 

In this set of islands, a lot of important resources such as oil and gas blocks are disputed by Vietnam, China and Japan. China, being a global superpower, took the situation with an iron fist, and during a car journey with the Japanese ambassador, the Japanese flag was removed from the vehicle. [2] With many actions without the Vietnamese government’s consent, China sent foreign companies to Vietnam’s oil reserves particularly associated with companies such as American-owned Exxon Mobil Corp and Russia’s OAO Gazprom. [2]This is significant, because in response, the Vietnam people have reacted extremely angrily, showing their displeasure with many protests aimed at the Chinese government policies, together with a maritime law that claims their right of sovereignty in both the Paracel and Spratly Islands in June 2012. [2, 3] However, the Chinese military has planned to build fortifications on the Paracels, in order to further enact their own allegations on these territories.

The Spralty Islands 

Perhaps the most fundamental of all three schools of islands, the Spratly Islands are rich in oil and gas, strategic in sea ports for each of the nations’ navy. Similar to the Scramble for Africa or the Scramble for China, these islands are disputed by many countries, namely Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Bruneian, Malaysian and Filipino, with all of these governments claiming their rights for administration. [4]
The Chinese government is again taking an aggressive stance with this geopolitical situation, arguing that the Filipino government under Aquino have wrongly claimed sovereignty to a disputed island in the Spratly Islands area. [4] This is key, as the Chinese government continues to flex its muscle in power to the world, showing its allegations and rights upon these islands, despite being frequently contestable and illegitimate. Ma Zhaoxu, the Chinese foreign minister representative, stated that China had “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their surrounding waters” on this island, much against the Filipino government’s claims. This is again essential, because this increases the diplomatic tensions between the Sino-Vietnamese and Sino-Malaysian governments. Similar to the Vietnamese government, the Filipino administration reacted aggressively, by travelling to Pagasa Island (a sub-island within the Spratly archipelago) and declared it their own rightful territory. [4]
Fortunately, the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) are meeting in Bali, aiming to have resolutions over these territories and reducing further diplomatic confrontations by all the countries involved. [4]

The Diaoyu Islands 

It is legitimate that the world knows this set of islands as Diaoyu, in Mandarin pinyin meaning the Fishing Islands, and having the Chinese government once again disputing with a nation over their rights over the territory, this time being the Japanese government.

This is especially key, because, according to Chinese foreign minister representative, Hong Lei, the Diaoyu Islands were originally discovered and administered territorially and militarily under the navy, by the Chinese government dating back to the late 14th century to the mid 17th centuries, under Hu Zongxian, the Zhejiang governor of the Chinese Ming Dynastry. [5] However, the Japanese government did claim the islands during the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, calling these islands the Senkaku Islands. To add to the complication, the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Conference which occurred after the defeat of Japan in the post-WWII years, saw Japan taking these islands that had rightfully belonged to the Chinese and Taiwanese governments. [5]
This alleged right by the Chinese government was put into limelight by 14 Chinese sailors and political activists, comprising of Hong-KongeseMacanese and mainland locals, were aggressively arrested by the Japanese upon arrival on the Diaoyu Islands on August 15, in protest of the Japanese proclaiming their rights on the islands. [6]
Conversely, the Japanese national government has disagreed and forbade the Tokyo local government to land in the Diaoyu Islands. This is significant, as the Japanese national national government is perceived to want more stability and a reduction of tension in the Sino-Japanese relations. [7] This ease of tension idea was further enforced when the Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara, wanted to purchase the island in April as a way to assert Japanese rule on these islands. Worse still, there is a complex and rather ironic situation, where despite the fact that the Japanese government wants to discuss terms with the Kurihara family to formally stop their desires for sovereignty over the islands, the Japanese government are believed to have offered 2 billion yen ($25.4 million USD) to administer these islands under state control. [7]
United States reaction to geo-political situation 
With many states having diplomatic disputes over these aforementioned lands, American officials have taken their roles in trying to resolve this tense situation. Clinton, the American Foreign Secretary, has stated that these islands are in a tough decision whether to continue with economic and political ties with the Western countries or start to favour Chinese economic and political power. [8] This is significant, as there are many members of the ASEAN upon discussion, who believe China is frequently attempting to expand territorially, economically and politically within these areas. Consequently, all regional leaders have been instructed by the United States to come to terms with the Chinese government as diplomatically as possible, particularly with unsuccessful attempts to do in July. [8]Upon Clinton’s departure from Beijing, American Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, is to highlight to China America’s idea of dealing with this geo-political situation as diplomatically as possible, without the use of imperialism or force. [8] This is fundamental, because the Chinese government has argued that the Americans have only acted in their own national security and political interests, which satisfy them in their own way. Furthermore, China believes that the South China Sea problem should be managed between themselves and the other affected countries. Nevertheless, this is important, as American retaliated by stating the less powerful nations are easier swayed away with Chinese political desires, putting them on the back foot. [8]

In effect, all these disputed areas are rich in oil and gas, important resources to all countries involved. With the Chinese government acting aggressively in these geographical area of the South China Sea, claiming their allegations of these lands, the other smaller countries have their opinions easily pushed away into the corner, as we saw in the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands, where lesser countries namely Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia were out-powered politically.

However, the Diaoyu Islands presented a different and a lot more tense of a diplomatic problem, with Japan able to come to confrontations with China, matching her status as a global power and asserting their own opinions despite aggressively, but decisively to prove her own point where her territories lie specifically. Consequently, this is all significant, because despite the Chinese arguing for their own national interests against America and other countries, the Americans reacted with an orthodox political stance of ‘world policeman’, trying to restore peace and stability in these troubled waters. In my personal opinion, I believe that no country can have everything they want in this world, particularly with such an abundance of countries tangled in this situation. Thus, I think that all these countries have to come to a legitimate compromise, not one of the post-Second World War treaties where it left only the main participants satisfied, but one that could be resolved as fairly as possible. For example, if one country has X sets of land, then another country should have Y sets of land, after that the third with Z sets of land, and so on. Or at the worst, create condominiums of these countries, splitting the islands in the required amounts geographically and politically. If this sort of equilibrium is achieved, a reduction of political tension and potential war would be greatly appreciated by the world audience.

Thank you for reading my blog and I hope you liked it!
Bye for now! (:



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