By Qura tul ain Hafeez
Maritime disputes have appeared as one of the absolute security concern in the Asia-Pacific region. They act as a driving factor for the major power of the region, while formulating their strategic policies towards their neighbors. Over the past several decades the maritime security disputes touched an irrepressible point which cannot be ignored. The regional balance is also being affected by these skirmishes and the probability of an ensuing armed conflict among the littoral states cannot be denied easily. The geographical proximity of South China Sea and its potential of resources of oil and natural gas make it a hot spot and pivot of maritime clashes in the Indo-Pacific region. The urge to control the resources is one of the driving forces behind these disputes among the littoral states of SCS.
Many isles and reefs of the South China Sea belong to China, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Malaysia. China repeatedly claims her sovereignty upon these entire island (Paracel, Spratly and Scarborough Shoal), topographies lying within the dash line and “sovereign rights in the waters and sea bed” within the dash-line limit. Moreover, many of the non-claimant states have noteworthy maritime security interests of, freedom of navigation and over flight, acceptance of international laws of sea and acquisition of regional peace and safety, in the SCS. Also the United States Pivot Asia Strategy in the SCS appears to jeopardize any probability of making an end to the Conflicts.
Recently on Jan. 8, 2019, China has sent it’s a DF- 26 Ballistic Missile in the northwest region i.e. far western Gobi Desert and Tibetan Plateau regions. The DF-26 an anti-ship ballistic missile (ABM) is a long range BM capable to carry a nuclear or conventional warhead and can target medium and long range ships at sea up to 4,000km (2,500 miles). There are views that China’s attempt to launch the missile seems to protect itself in response from the U.S. Naval missiles. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS McCampbell was supposedly conducting a self-proclaimed Freedom of Navigation Patrol (FONOP) near the Parcel Islands on 7th0f January 2019.
International critics perceived the launch of DF-26 by China as a response to US Freedom of navigation near the Parcel Island. However, fact to reckon here is that DF-26 is not the first ABM sent to Parcel Island rather China has already deployed ABMs to both the Parcel and Spartly Islands. Moreover, in recent activity China was conducting training exercise, which was organized by China’s rocket force in order to strengthen its existing missile force.
In a recent chain of events China might be testing its ABM because of the rising threat after the US unilateral withdrawal from the INF treaty. Moreover, in Missile Defense Review 2019, US reiterated reliance on ground based interceptors (GBI) to counter ICBM’s in US is planning for space based interceptors, which is “existential threat” to China and Russia’s strategic deterrent. Thus, it can be said that after US withdrawal from INF, launch of its controversial NPR 2018 and MDR 2019 arms race in not only South China Sea but in world will increase.
The pursuit of individual interests by states rather than multilateral arms control and non-proliferation efforts will increase tensions and affect the stability of the world. Moreover, in this biased and interest driven system major powers only rely on notions like arm control and non-proliferation when it is convenient to them or when they want to stop other states to pursue their national interests. So, instead of finding a solution to the problem of arms build-up and bringing the other states like Iran, China under the umbrella of non-proliferation treaties US itself terminated the treaty. If these states join the treaty there will be arms control instead of arms build.
Qura tul ain Hafeez has an M Phil in international relations from Quaid-I Azam University Islamabad. She currently works as a researcher at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. Her domain of work include China as an emerging global power, Sino-Pakistan strategic and civil nuclear relations, South Asian strategic issues, regional integration, nuclear issues including nuclear non-proliferation and NSG, foreign policy analysis, and international politics.