The latest red rag from India to China has come about at the 5th East Asia Summit foreign ministers' Meeting in Kuala Lumpur wherein V K Singh, the junior foreign minister, reiterated the now well-known Indian position on the South China Sea dispute. Singh told the conference that territorial disputes must be settled through peaceful means "as was done by India and Bangladesh recently using the mechanisms provided under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea)'China has been going out of the way to consolidate its dominance in South-China Sea. However, this effort is vehemently and systematically opposed by all countries which believe that they have a stake in the Sea.We have seen Vietnam violently protesting against Chinese initiatives in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, which even led to violent clashes between Chinese expats and local Vietnamese. Philippines, which also has interests in the region, has chosen to join hands with the US in conducting drills in the area. Malaysia has also recently joined the fray in protesting against China on the South China Sea issue.
Despite various countries ganging up against China, it has not shown any kind of hesitation in going ahead with its plans in the region and has carried on and built artificial land over a huge area in the disputed Spartly Island chain much to the discomfort of Japan.
While the US has been maintaining its pressure, in collaboration with other affected nations, on China on the South China Sea issue, on occasions it has been quite vocal as recently displayed when it warned China that ‘it would not tolerate efforts to control sea and air routes in the South China Sea’ with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying at a regional summit that “open navigation of the strategically important area was an ‘intrinsic right’”.
India too recently sought to give teeth to its ‘act East’ policy, and asked parties involved in South China Sea dispute to learn from the successful arbitration of India’s maritime territorial dispute with Bangladesh under United Nations convention of the law of the sea (UNCLOS). India and US even issued a joint strategic vision in January for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region affirming the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea.
Recently, at the regional security talks, South-East Asian diplomats urged China to address concerns over its controversial Island-building drive. Philippines, during these talks, maintained a very stubborn stand calling Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea as “unilateral and aggressive”. China was sternly asked to stop land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea to which China responded saying that “it has a right to continue the activity”.
China is not only facing onslaught on the South China Sea issue but it has also got other irritants to keep it busy. It is facing a very uncomfortable and a resilient rebellion in the form of Uighur militants. The country has recently been criticized in the Muslim world for imposing severe restrictions on the followers of Islam. There were also reports that churches were banned from prominently displaying the ‘cross’.
While China finds itself targeted from all directions on the South China Sea, it has been steadily trying to consolidate and strengthen relations with its existing friends by getting into deals and agreements. Recently China promised Pakistan 46 billion dollars worth of projects and investments ensuring that Pakistan, which treats China as its ‘all weather friend’, remains an ally (read as slave) till the world exists. This exhibition of generosity on the part of the Chinese is seen as an exercise aimed at making Pakistan indebted forever and follow its diktats and do what is told especially with reference to the growing concerns in China on the Uighur insurgency, which China believes Pakistan has a lot to do with.
Some cooperation has also been seen recently between China and Russia. China is also believed to have recently decided to sell Tehran 24 J-10 fighter jets and in return is expected to get a 20-year access to one of Tehran’s major oil fields, the Azadegan Oil field.
China has also been seeing some positive signs with the prospects of Chinese currency RMB being fully internationalized and could join the group of being a component currency of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR). Also China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has received a lot of support which experts have opined could act as Asia’s IMF.
All said and done, one has to wait and see how China balances its friends and foes and addresses its various concerns, primary among them being the South China Sea issue, given that US’s China policy is continuing to be an all inclusive containment, one aiming to tackle Chinese capabilities economically, politically and militarily.
There is a section of well informed Chinese experts which feels that US fears continued Chinese prosperity as it could result in China becoming more assertive in international affairs. With China’s ambition fixed at becoming a world leader and the US wanting to stay ever at number one, it is important that China first attains the status of being supreme in Asia, after successfully dealing with Japan and India. It is a long way ahead before China can achieve its objective.