South China Sea Dispute: US’ Tough Stance May Worsen Relations with China

South China Sea Dispute: US’ Tough Stance May Worsen Relations with China 

The growing US-China rivalry has raised threats of US’ involvement in the South China Sea. At present, many regional states have claimed their sovereignty over its island and maritime, with China claiming the maximum part, that is 80 percent. The slow-moving South China Sea dispute heightened when the American warships sailed into the waters in April, sharpening the ongoing US-China rift.

Calling Chinese claims to the South China Sea as unlawful, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo on Monday said, “We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them. The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.”

Pompeo also stated that the US rejects all Chinese claims beyond the 12-nautical mile territorial area around the Spratly Islands, citing in particular Beijing’s claims to the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank off of Vietnam, Luconia Shoals of Malaysia, the area within Brunei’s exclusive economic zone and Natuna Besar of Indonesia.

A data suggests that around US$3.37 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea annually. In addition, South China Sea is also a medium for China’s total trade imports and exports. 80 percent of China’s imports and 39.5 percent of China’s total trade passes through the territorial water.

While the claimant states want to retain the strategic control of important shipping lanes and acquire their rights to fishing stocks, the exploration and potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas in the seabed of various parts of the South China Sea, the experts warned that it could be a problem for China that remains alert now. If a maritime clash occurs between the claimant states, the US will get an opportunity to step in the South China Sea dispute.

The US’ involvement would hinder China’s bigger plans for the waters. Considering US-China’s disputed relations, there is a high possibility that a direct military conflict can easily be triggered. The contested waterway could thereby become a turning point in the US-China history. Only if China succeeds in reassessing its strategies to manage tensions with its Southeast Asian neighbours and examine the overall Sino-US ties, will the country be able to avoid the US’ direct involvement in the matter.

The US’ toughening of its stance over China’s claims in South China Sea dispute, have heightened the conflict risk between the two countries. The strengthening of the US policy will halt Beijing’s use of coercion to grab resources, harass fishermen and intimidate its neighbours. Chinese officials condemned the US for going back on its position of neutrality on territorial waters dispute.

The experts say if none of the claimant states take sides with either the US or China then the possibility of military conflict between the US and China can be controlled. For sure, it won’t improve the relations between both the countries, since the US-China dispute involves a wide range of issues, from trade to human rights, COVID-19 pandemic spread and Hong Kong crisis etc.

Likewise, if the US-China rift continues to worsen, then the South China Sea dispute could easily become the starting point of military clash between both the countries.

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