GP Insights # 343, 25 April 2020
On April 22, an Australian frigate HMAS Parramatta joined three warships from the US seventh fleet destroyer USS Barry in the disputed waters of South China sea where a Chinese survey ship (Haiyang Dizhi 8) was suspected of exploring oil near Malaysia’s Petronas State Oil vessel.
The waters have been claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia and China. The incident took place after the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of taking advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the pandemic to push its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
China has denied the reports of perpetuating any ‘standoff’ saying that its survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 was conducting ‘normal activities.’ However, the US has called on China to stop its “bullying behaviour” in the South China Sea, which is in dispute between China, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Though the Chinese ship docked within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign affairs has not commented on the issue.
What is the background?
The current tussle in the South China Sea comes at a time when tensions are wedging deeper between the two economic giants, the US and China.
The South China Sea is the strategic waterway through which one-third of global shipping flows. The resource-rich waterway is claimed by China to build artificial islands and military outposts.
The territorial claims of China in the South China Sea keeps expanding and increasing disagreement among the ASEAN members, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia and the US who has an active naval base in the Pacific Ocean.
China continues to overshadow the region by harassing the fishing boats, military ships and oil and gas rigs of the smaller South-East Asian states. Earlier this week, Beijing further agitated the Southeast Asian neighbours by creating two administrative islands in the disputed region of the South China Sea. Vietnam protested after China said that it had established an administrative system in Paracel and Spratly islands in the archipelagos that are claimed by Vietnam and Malaysia as well.
What does it mean?
The US warships patrolling through the sensitive straits of the South China Sea are aimed at containing the growing tension involving China. The US claims its presence of patrol vessels as the “Freedom of Navigation” to sail in the international waterways.
The spread of pandemic from China and the inability of the US to control the death toll due to the virus have opened a series of accusations made by the US on China. For China, the advantage is the crisis situation and the declining US power in global politics. Both have muted the Asian countries like India, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and others in reacting to the issues.
Despite sending a threat alert to China, the silence of the regional states evidently shows their dependence on China and the declining US position. Perhaps, the US action is to prevent any further decline.