China’s increasing militarisation in the South China Sea is a matter of concern for the international community, particularly, for the immediate neighbours of the country. It is an important topic for the UPSC international relations segment. In this article, you can read a few important points regarding the topic.
Gist of concern
- China has been militarising the South China Sea for at least ten years now. There is a growing tension in the area because of the now blatant expansion of Chinese military presence in the islands of the South China Sea.
- China has expanded existing reefs and atolls by thousands of acres.
- Satellite images have shown that China has installed anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles on three islands in the Spratly archipelago west of the Philippines. (Spratly Islands are claimed by China, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam).
- There is also growing evidence of radar installations and bomber-sized bunkers made of reinforced concrete. Satellite images also reveal runways on several of their features.
- Underwater surveillance systems have also been installed to monitor the movement of foreign ships.
- Some of the other infrastructure it has built includes war fighting equipment such as missiles, signal jamming systems, radars, ships and fighter aircrafts. Several features have large hangars that can accommodate Y-8 military transport aircraft.
- In the Subi Reef and the Mischief Reef, buried facilities have been built for storage of weapons.
- China also declared that several bombers had landed in the Paracel Islands. The Paracel Islands is another disputed region. Both China and Vietnam claim it.
- Chinese reclamations in the South China Sea in several of the islands is of a huge scale. In the Spratly alone, it covers about 3,200 acres.
- China has always claimed that it is doing so in order to make navigation in the area safer by, for example, building lighthouses, and also claims it is doing so for the “common good”.
- The weapons being installed in the islands have great capability. Some of the missiles have the ability to hit ships within 295-340 miles.
- Apart from occupying the Scarborough Shoal which is disputed between the Philippines, Taiwan and China, it has also placed a rig at a site nearby.
- The chief objective of China is to establish their hegemony in the region. By creating artificial island and militarising them China has already altered the strategic balance in the region in its favour.
- China is also using skillful diplomacy to ensure that until now, there was no unified opposition to this militarisation. Vietnam is the only country that has been vocal about its opposition to Chinese aggression in the Sea.
- Other countries party to the disputes have become ‘willing victims’.
- International institutions such as the UNCLOS has been rendered redundant.
- The US, in a bid to counter Chinese aggression, has increased its naval and air presence and also conducted provocative patrols and combined exercises with its allies.
The Way Forward
- There is an urgent need to build capacity of smaller disputants so that they may not become the victims of the Chinese coercive diplomacy.
- There should be a united strategic move to force China to accept international Law and norms.