Implications of South China Sea dispute on Indian foreign policy

The South China dispute is a territorial conflict involving several sovereign states over the island, reefs, banks and other features of south China sea. The dispute involves the Spratly Islands, Parcel Island, Scarborough Shoal and various boundaries of Gulf of Tonkin.

Countries that have claim in south the South China Sea include: Brunei, People Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. The China claims the largest portion of South China sea, The PRC claim has been based on “Nine Dash Line” which was drawn in 1947 but it is rejected by others claimants as well as by UN convention on the law of the sea.

Why South China Sea is important:

The South China sea is strategically important region and control of the sea lanes by China is main cause of concern. The South China sea is an important body of water for a number of reasons including

1.       Economic importance: The South China is a major shipping route carrying US $ 3 Trillion trade each year. It also an important fishing ground providing food to millions of people in the region.

2.       Strategic importance: The South China sea is located in a strategically important area. It is located near the strait of Malacca, which is a major shipping route.

3.       Environmental importance: The South China sea is home to diverse range of marine life and a major source of biodiversity.


Implications of South China sea dispute on India:

1.       Security concern: The South China sea is a vital lane for India’s trade and energy imports. Any disruption for shipping in the South China sea would have a significant impact on growing India’s economy.

2.       Geopolitical concerns: The South China sea is strategically important region and control of the sea lanes would give China a significant advantage in Indo- Pacific region. China’s growing influence could threaten India’s interest in the region.

3.       Economic concern: The South China sea is major source of oil and gas and India is interested in exploring the resources. However, China’s claim over the sea could make it difficult for India to access those resources.


Role of India:

1.       Engaging with ASEAN: India has strengthened its engagement with ASEAN, a regional grouping of southeast Asian countries. The engagement is aimed at promoting cooperation in South China sea and preventing conflict in the region.

Leaders of ASEAN should try to find solution through “Quite diplomacy,” as the potential to resolve this issue through legal method is very low. (Permanent court of Arbitration denied China’s assertion in the sea but China did not bother)

2.       Supporting UNCLOS: India is signatory to the UN convention on the law of the sea. It is an international legal framework governing the use of oceans.

3.       Developing strategic partnership: with countries in the Indo- Pacific region such as US, Japan and Australia (QUAD). These partnerships are aimed at countering China’s growing influence in the region.

4.       India can offer to mediate between the parties: India has a long history of mediation and peacekeeping. India’s mediation could help to break the deadlock in the negotiations.

5.       India can offer to share its naval experience with the countries in the region.


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