POST TIME: 20 January, 2021 08:28:25 PM
Peaceful settlement on South China Sea is difficult
Any external effort especially from US will rather provoke China to act more aggressively regarding the matter. It is China itself who should take proper measure
Muhammad Estiak Hussain

Peaceful settlement on South China Sea is difficult

South China Sea is one of the strategically important areas in the contemporary world politics. China is the main contender and frequently trying to establish its influence by claiming large chunk of it. China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are the main parties directly involved in the dispute. However, at least implicitly, two other actors, the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), are also involved.
In term of the US, it is involved significantly in the conflict, despite not making any territorial claim, because of its alliances with Japan and the Philippines. The US has also its own security and economic interests in the region. On the other hand, ASEAN has also been active in the conflict since 1995, when it started lobbying in support of the creation of a multilateral code of ethics regarding the disputes that was never eventually agreed to be binding.
China and Taiwan
China and Taiwan based their assertion on a U-shaped nine-dash line map, first published in 1948, based on a 'historical use' statement, rather than a UNCLOS legal excuse. Experts point out that before it was added to a verbal note that China sent to the United Nations in 2009, the map did not appear to have been part of any 'official' Chinese government paper. Moreover, the communication from China includes the declaration that China has unquestionable control over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent seas and retains territorial rights and authority over the related waters and their seabed and subsoil. This particular view consistently held by the Chinese government and is generally recognized by the international community.
One the other hand, Taiwan's assertion was explained in 2005. It only focuses on the land features such as islands and continental shelf as well as the seas around the islands along the nine-dash axis, but not the whole body of waters. But still, according to UNCLOS, there is a lack of legal reason regarding the claim.
Vietnam has introduced an argument against China based on historical claim. In fact, according to BBC News, Vietnam claims that China did not assert sovereignty over the Paracels or the Spratlys Islands before 1948, while Vietnam has the Franco-Chinese treaty of 1887, which shows that since the 17th century it has owned both island chains. Nonetheless, from the legal point of view, Vietnam's rights to both archipelagos stretch outside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) 200 nautical mile area to which it is entitled.
The Philippines
The Philippines bases its argument on the geological similarities it has with regard to the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands, unlike the previous three countries. Experts on South China Sea state that in the former case, the Philippines has a superior claim to the Scarborough Shoal and there are two facts which give the case greater legal weight. Firstly, because it is 400 nautical miles closer than China to the Philippines and secondly, it is located within the EEZ of the Philippines. Similarly, it reveals that many of the Spratly Islands' asserted features are found within the Philippine’s EEZ. However, there is a lack of a legal justification in the way the nation asserts these features as a general argument over the 'Kalayaan Island Group' in the sense that it contains features and water space not subject to appropriation similar to the nine-dash line.
Malaysia and Brunei
Malaysia and Brunei are based their claims on the basis of the 200-nautical-mile EEZ and continental shelf around some attributes of the South China Sea. In the case of Malaysia, in contrast to the Commodore or Rizal Reef claims, the claims coincide entirely with those of China, Taiwan and Vietnam, but only slightly with those of the Philippines. However, owing to the overlap of EEZs, it is not possible to decide which nation (including Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines) bears the strongest argument.
Finally, with regard to Brunei's argument, the problem lies not in the overlap of EEZs, as the interest in Louisa Reef is only shared by China/Taiwan, but what exactly this feature is. Experts conclude that if it is accepted that the above shoal should be deemed to be an island under UNCLOS, "Brunei would seem to have the better claim to sovereignty over Louisa Reef." Whereas, it would only be part of the Brunei-owned continental shelf if only a submerged feature or a low-tide elevation were considered.
Strategic importance of South China Sea motivates these states to claim various parts of it, though most of their claim is in direct conflict with legal practices especially, with laws which are prescribed in the UNCLOS regarding the maritime delimitation. Not only are these claims in conflict with legal practices, but also against each other because most of claims involve same part of the sea. These make the South China Sea one major concern in world politics. Any peaceful solution to the disputes needs an active and responsible role from China. A passive role from China will not solve the problem because it is the main contender and most powerful party in the disputes. Any external effort especially from US will rather provoke China to act more aggressively regarding the matter. It is China itself who should take proper measure and make arrangements with other parties involved in disputes to peacefully solve the issue.
The writer is a student of department of international relations, University of Dhaka. The opinions expressed in the article are the writer’s own.