South China Sea Current Affairs

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China, Russia conduct joint naval exercises Joint Sea-2016 in South China Sea

China and Russia have carried out joint naval exercises dubbed as Joint Sea-2016 in the resource-rich South China Sea (SCS) off China’s southern Guangdong province.

The exercises follow a spike in tensions after Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China’s claims in the SCS and slammed it for causing environmental damage there.

Key Facts

  • The eight-day naval exercises (from September 13 to 19) were held in a non-disputed area in SCS off China’s southern Guangdong province.
  • It had featured surface ships, missile destroyer, anti-submarine vessels, missile frigates, ship-based helicopters and conventional submarines among others from both navies.
  • The vessels were divided into two fleets and confrontations were staged off the eastern waters of Zhanjiang in Guangdong which is close to Chinese coast.
  • Both sides had undertaken defence, anti-submarine operations and rescue operations in addition to joint island seizing and other activities
  • They had carried out live-fire drills, sea crossing and island landing operations, and island defence and offence exercises among other.

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China, ASEAN countries agree to form South China Sea framework

China and ten member countries of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to form a framework for a code of conduct to ease tension in disputed South China Sea.

The agreement was reached between both sides during a meeting at Inner Mongolia in northern China held on August 15 and 16, 2016.

Key Facts

  • The two sides also agreed to get the framework for the code of conduct done by mid-2017.
  • They also approved guidelines for a China-ASEAN hotline for use during maritime emergencies.
  • They also agreed that a pact on unplanned maritime encounters signed by countries in the region in 2014 is applied to the SCS.

Comment

  • This decision is considered as a significant rapprochement between China and ASEAN bloc, especially after Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling against China in July 2016.
  • The PCA had ruled that China has no historical title over the disputed South China Sea and it has breached the Philippines sovereign rights. However, China had dismissed the ruling and had urged bilateral talks to resolve the issue.

Background

Since 2010, China and the 10 members of ASEAN have been discussing a set of rules aimed at avoiding conflict among rival claimants in the busy waterway in South China Sea. China based on historical assumptions has claimed almost the entire South China Sea as its part. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan (not member) also have claimed their rights in the sea through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually and is believed to be rich in energy deposits.

10 ASEAN Members: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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China has no historic rights over South China Sea: Hague Tribunal

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in Hague, the Netherlands has rejected China’s claims to economic rights across large swathes of South China Sea.

Ruling in this regard was given by a five-member tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague in a case brought by the Philippines.

The ruling came from an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which both China and Philippines have signed. The ruling is binding but the tribunal has no powers for enforcement.

Ruling

  • There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the South China Sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line.
  • China has violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights and also caused severe harm to the coral reef environment by building artificial islands in South China Sea.
  • China’s rights are incompatible with the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) provided in the UNCLOS.

Background

  • The current round of tension between Philippines and China began in 2009 after a tense stand-off over Scarborough Shoal, which led to China to gain de facto control of it in 2012.
  • Philippines had lodged its suit against China at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seain 2013, saying China has violated the UNCLOS to which both countries are signatories.
  • China has boycotted the tribunal ever since Philippines had filed the petition in The Hague international court.
  • Earlier in 2013, China also had set up an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) over similarly disputed territory in the East China Sea.

Disputes in South China Sea

  • Disputes in South China Sea are fight mainly between China, Philippines, Vietnam over the territorial sovereignty in South China Sea along with other atolls, reefs and rocky outcrops.
  • China’s claim: It is saying that major portion of these islands belong to them as part of the historical events and area defined by Nine Dash Line.
  • Under its claim, China already has started and even completed building artificial islands and even strategic runways for mobilising its airforce from these islands.
  • China’s claim overlap the South Chia Sea areas of different claimants countries, that involve  Brunei,   Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia.
  • Importance of South China Sea: It is strategically located and major international shipping route as world’s half merchant ships passes through it.
  • The sea rich in energy (reserves of natural resources around them including petroleum), mineral and fishing resources.
  • India’s position: Supports freedom of navigation and flight and unimpeded commerce based on the principals of international law in South China Sea.
  • Believes that states should resolve deputes through peaceful means and exercise self – restraint.

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