Tension In The South China Sea Continues To Threaten Peace And Stability In The Region

Tension in the South China Sea has recently been reignited following Chinese ballistic missile tests in the area. In response, the international community has condemned the actions as provocative and a clear threat to peace in the region.

Among other states, the U.S. has been open in its concerns with China’s actions in the South China Sea late last week. The Pentagon announced that “conducting military exercises over disputed territory…is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability” in a statement following the tests. More importantly, the statement indicated that China’s actions have violated its commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DCPSCS). These commitments involve avoiding “activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” according to the statement. Japan has also criticized the missile tests for fueling tensions in the region . According to The Japan Times, Japan’s top government spokesman said that “our country is strongly opposed to whatever act that heightens tensions in the South China Sea.” It is evident from these remarks that China’s actions have incited wide-spread concern over its intentions.

Regardless of China’s intentions, however, the missile tests have reduced the prospects of resolving the ongoing dispute and have further complicated matters. It has demonstrated China’s enduring effort to achieve and maintain military dominance in the region, creating barriers to cooperation. Perhaps more concerning, China’s violations of the 2002 DCPSCS has signaled an inability to commit to international agreements. Achieving peace and stability in the region relies on China’s willingness to cooperate. However, these recent missile tests suggest that China is not prepared to resolve the dispute through cooperation.

China’s recent military activity in the South China Sea is not out of the ordinary. Over the last decade it has drastically increased its military presence in the region, constructing man-made islands which possesses military-grade airfields and advanced weaponry. It has also claimed large portions of the waterways that flow beyond its sovereign boarders. These actions have threatened Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia which also have maritime claims to the sea. Furthermore, the recent missile tests have marked a significant advancement in China’s military capabilities in the area. More specifically, the tests included a successful launch of a DF-21D missile, the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile. It boasts a range between 1,450 and 1,550 kilometres. Both the U.S. and Japan fear that China’s new ballistic missile system and its outposts may be used to obstruct global trade that passes through the waterways.

Ultimately, China’s claims to sovereignty over large portions of the South China Sea have been deemed illegitimate by the international community. In hopes of settling the dispute, the states in the region have attempted to negotiate with China. However, China’s unilateral decisions to continue its advancement in the region has demonstrated an unwillingness to cooperate. As a result, prospects of peace in the region have been threatened by China’s provocative actions. The recent demonstration of its military capabilities in the South China Sea has increased the possibility of the dispute escalating into a costly militarized conflict.

Charles Alcasar Guedouard