Militarising South China Sea

  • China has placed surface to air missile batteries on woody islands.
  • Woody Island is a link in the disputed paracel island chain in the south china sea.
  • They are claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam
  • since 1974, woody islands are under Chinese control
  • china has been extending coastline artificially by building on reefs etc
  • US has accused China of militarising south china sea. As a counter allegation China has accused U.S as well of militarising the region, citing the passing-by of U.S Naval destroyer close to South China Sea
  • 5 trillion dollars of international trade passing through this region annually, making it a very crucial geo-economic corridor


  • Its economic rise is spectacular, but, whether its rise would be peaceful or not is a skeptical thought.
  • According to experts, it is a long term grand strategy followed by China.  To stake claims and back it up. Then to allow the waters to calm down and then militarise the region.
  • Vietnamese are not very happy about Chinese historical claims about islands. Vietnam has a long history of fighting the Chinese expansionism. Chinese are fanning these fears further and that is why Vietnam is alarmed.
  • Phillipines also lost michief reef to china earlier and China conquered it by force. So its natural for Phillipines to be alarmed


  • It is not under the sovereign right of any country
  • Only 12 nautical miles from coast is considered as sovereign zone of any country
  • The issue is China, Phillipines and Vietnam claim south china sea to be a territorial sea.
  • This has implications for international trade and navigation
  • 5 trillion dollars of trade will have to seek the permission of the Vietnam, and china, if the region is militarised
  • There are salami tactics which china has been using for a long time-like sending chinese tourists to disputed islands and oil rigs etc.


  • Other countries like Vietnam have also encroached South China sea, but they have not militarised to the extent that china does.

(For eg: China has extended the run way of woody islands to 2000m. This can be used to land    fighter jets)

  • U.S has access to military bases in Asia. For eg in Taiwan, in Thailand and so on. so how is it a problem if china militarises? Some experts counter this claim saying that U.S has historical reference and legal claims to back its asian presence. Its presence is as a treaty post the world war 2. What china claims is not based on empirical facts or proofs
  • However, some other foreign policy elites say that U.S.A is raising an alarm to suppress china’s rise. It is a part of the grand strategy of the “Pivot to Asia”

The reason for chinese expansionism :

  • It claims historical presence in those islands.
  • It can dominate the major trade routes through which majority of the oil is traded
  • It will have high levels of bargaining powers with respect to large parts of south asia
  • The possibility of rich natural resources like oil and natural gas in the region .

Why ASEAN countries are not pursuaded by the USA to push back china?

  • There was a meeting in california recently to bring on board ASEAN countries but countries like Laos and cambodia are not coming on board
  • Chief reasons are that:
    • Laos and Cambodia are small and not militarily powerful
    • They have trade linkages with china which they dont want to loose
    • They are a trading bloc countries and not a security bloc. Further, they are not claimants to south china sea
    • ASEAN remains a divided house

What is India’s Stake in the region?

  • We have 55pc of trade passing through this region. Therefore, we need to support freedom of navigation
  • The ONGC exploration in Vietnam is also at stake

What Should India do?

  • we have pumped in 5bn dollars in Vietnam oil blocks
  • Despite having signed joint vision statement with the US about Pacific and Indian ocean we should not go for joint patrolling with USA
  • Some experts suggest joint patrolling with USA, whereas some others suggest only having a joint naval exercises with Vietnam to prevent any Chinese aggression that can hurt India’s interests.

OTHER USEFUL ARTICLES: The diplomat-Who is militarizing the south china sea?

PRACTISE QUESTION: The south china sea dispute is a geo-strategic puzzle. In the light of Pivot to Asia doctrine of the USA,  examine the consequences for India and give suggestions for India to resolve the challenge.