Nov 02, 2014
Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi
The issues surrounding the South China Sea have been under the radar of the Asian public for a long time. Except the scholars and people who are directly concerned with it do not seem to have any interest in the region. The awareness of it, in the South Asian region is limited. The South China Sea has generated a lot of interest in the recent past. Estimation of the presence of Oil and natural gas, the maritime route and security of the nations in the region are just a few brow-raising issues that have put the spotlight back in the area in the recent times.
The South China Sea is best known for its disputed territorial boundaries. There are over 250 tiny islands, reefs, and sand bars that form part of the South China Sea.
These islands are grouped in to a few archipelagoes namely Paracel, Spratly, Paratas, Maccelesfield and Scarborough Shoal. The People's Republic of China, Brunei, The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam share their boarders on the South China Sea.
The disputes are exacerbated with the issues concerning two areas Paracel and Spratly islands. These are two archipelagos that are largely uninhabited but are considered to have significant strategic value. Currently the Vietnam occupies 25 islands, China occupies 9, the Phili ppines occupies 8 and Malaysia occupies 3 islands. While Taiwan occupies the largest Island in the Spratly group called the Aba Island and Brunei claims to occupy one island.
There are several historical claims to this area. China for example sites that that they have found archeological evidence to prove their presence in the Islands since the 13th century especially during the Tong and Song dynasties. They firm their claim to dominance also because of is being a regular trade route for several centuries. While Vietnam for its share asserts its domination over the by calling it part of its heritage and culture, Malaysia, claims to be an important player in the entreport trade.
The 19th century saw its share of colonial outings with the Germans, French and Spanish, the United States of America and Japanese. These countries were vying with each other to gain a strong footing in the region recognizing its naval importance. The end of the second World War, brought several changes in the region. With Japanese occupation coming to an end and the Chi nese rising to the most dominant status, it gave room to expand the contentions of territorial claim of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and The Philippines. The discovery of the presence of hydrocarbons in the region woke up the world's attention to the South China Sea. While there are several contested estimates ranging from 1.1 billion tonnes to 17.7 billion tonnes of oil and about 190 trillion cubic feed of natural gas. It is undoubtedly an emerging oil super power area. Some analysts even call it the "second Persian Sea". This was enough to set out the global competition on oil exploration and exploitation.
Prior to the discovery of oil and natural gas reserves the region has been an important trade route. Maritime activities have brimmed in the area, making it the busiest in the world. China along with other nations has relied on the sea to establish their trade and territorial supremacy. The transport of oil has further, enhanced the use of this as a trade route for oil. With a combination of oil and trade routes, the region lends itself to be vulnerable to conflict. Given the strategic geopolitical interests compounded with economic advantages more attention is being diverted to this region. Not to mention the interests of the US, India too is found to take advantage of the situation. Its collaboration with Vietnam to explore and drill out oil is just one of the initiatives.
Ashok Gladston Xavier is head, department of social work, Loyola College, Chennai.