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Chi's quest for maritime hegemony

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  19 July 2016 12:00 AM GMT

By Aroonim Bhuyan

The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague on the South Chi Sea dispute in favour of the Philippines may have come as a setback for Chi but it will not stop Beijing from continuing with its quest for maritime hegemony in the region.

“The reaction of Chi on the court’s ruling was on expected lines,” Prashant Kumar Singh, Associate Fellow in the East Asia Centre of the Institute for Defence Studies and Alyses (IDSA), told IANS.

“In the immediate term, it might adopt aggressive posturing and show a defiant face to other claimants to the dispute and also to the US which is a security provider for many of the claimants, including the Philippines,” he said.

But in the medium term, he said, how things would play out would depend a lot on domestic, intertiol and regiol responses to the situation.

An intertiol arbitration tribul in the PCA ruled on July 12 that Chi violated the Philippines’ rights in the South Chi Sea, one of the busiest commercial shipping routes in the world.

The court accused Chi of interfering with the Philippines’ fishing and petroleum exploration, building artificial islands in the waters and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.

The tribul held that fishermen from the Philippines had traditiol fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal in the South Chi Sea and that Chi had interfered with these rights by restricting their access.

The court held that Chinese law enforcement vessels unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels in the region.

Chi is locked in disputes over the Spratly and Paracel groups of islands in the South Chi Sea with other countries of the region. While the other claimants over the Spratly islands are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietm, the Paracel islands are also claimed by Vietm and Taiwan. The most heavily contested are the Spratlys, a group of 14 islands, islets and cays and more than 100 reefs that are strategically located.

Abhijit Singh, head of the Marine Security Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation, pointed out that the tribul has ruled that areas where Chi claimed for setting up exclusive economic zones (EEZs) could not be called islands as these were rocks and could not sustain life.

“Chi has made territorial and historical claims,” Abhijit Singh said. “But the most important claim is that of sovereignty.” He said that Chi already has a territorial dispute with Japan over the Senkaku islands in the East Chi Sea west of Okiwa.

“Chi regularly keeps sending val ships in the vicinity of the Senkaku islands,” Abhijit Singh said.

Chi is also jittery about what former President Hu Jintao described as the “Malacca Dilemma”.

The Malacca Strait is a rrow stretch of water between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra and serves as a crucial link to the South Chi Sea.

The Chinese are worried that the strait, which is effectively under the US control, can be choked any time if trouble arises, cutting down energy supplies from the Middle East and Africa.

“To overcome this, they are taking steps like building the Gwadar port in Pakistan,” Prashant Singh said, adding that Chi was building ports at Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Djibouti as well. That Chi was seeking to increase its domince in the Indian Ocean region became evident when the Maldives parliament passed a land lease act in undue haste last year.

According to foreign policy expert Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee, Chi is trying to further its maritime ambitions under the guise of exploring for rare earth minerals, gold and tural gas through its deep sea submersibles Dayang 1, Jialong, Qianlong and Hailong.

“But the fact of the matter is Chi only has passive technology for deep sea mining (meaning it has the equipment but it has only been tested overground and not the under the sea),” Bhattacharjee said.

While Chi virtually holds the monopoly in exports of rare earth minerals, it has reported finds of gold deposits off the east Chi coast and in southwest Indian Ocean, the exploration contract for which it has got from the Intertiol Seabed Authority.

“Only India and South Korea have the active technology for deep sea mining,” Bhattacharjee said. (IANS)

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