South China Sea

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  • Archit Gupta asked: Keeping in mind India's interest in the South China sea, what should be India's policy with respect to the dispute?

    Reply: Please refer to an earlier response by Sarabjeet Singh Parmar to a similar query, at

    Also, refer to the following IDSA publications:

    Saloni Salil, “India, to the South China Sea and Beyond”, Journal of Defence Studies, 7 (1), January 2013, at

    R. S. Kalha, “China’s Forward Policy in the South China Sea”, July 30, 2012, at

    James R. Holmes, “Inside, Outside: India's ‘Exterior Lines’ in the South China Sea”, Strategic Analysis, 36 (1), May 2012, at

    Sarabjeet Singh Parmar, “The South China Sea Imbroglio”, October 14, 2011, at

    India, to the South China Sea and Beyond

    This commentary attempts to map out some of the salient options for India in the region east of the Indian Ocean, that is, from the South China Sea (SCS) extending to the South Pacific. A maritime debate, the role and function of the Indian Navy is thus central.

    January 2013

    Murky Waters: Politics in the South China Sea

    What makes the South China Sea compelling is its global strategic significance both in terms of trade and energy, which has given rise to the strategic presence of a dangerous number of actors cast in multiple roles.

    December 11, 2012

    Minhtran asked: What is the likelihood of China re-adjusting its policy towards the disputes in East and South China Seas as the next generation of leaders come into power? What could be the likely trend?

    Jagannath P. Panda replies: The dispute over East China Sea and South China Sea are vital issues in China’s national security interests and thereby in its foreign policy practice. The way China decides to handle the disputes in South China Sea and East China Sea will largely determine its strategic posture in the neighbourhood region, and more vitally, its international image in future. Even if there are new generation leaders coming to power in China, it is most unlikely that China will really relax its position or claim in brining any major modification in its strategic posture towards the conflicting issues like South China Sea and East China Sea. History suggests that China does take the conflicting security issues seriously and does not normally compromise on territorial and sovereignty issues linked to its national interests.

    Xi Jinping and Le Keqiang are no different from the outgoing leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao; especially when it comes to China’s foreign policy practice. China would most probably continue to maintain its strong and rigid posture over South China and East China Sea. Yet, there may be minor ‘re-adjustment’ in showing some restraint over its ‘aggressiveness’ on the issues, because both Southeast and East Asia are vital priority neighbouring regions in Chinese foreign policy practice and politics. Despite these conflicts, China has always preferred to usually maintain good relations with the smaller and bigger countries in these regions, and China’s healthy trade and commercial contacts with these regions are strong examples of this. Besides, the Chinese leaders don’t want to loose out the economic advantages these regions may offer to China in future, especially when the Chinese economy is number two in the world, and on the ascendancy.

    However, the recent Chinese ‘assertiveness’ over these conflicting issues has severely affected China’s overall relations with the regions and countries concerned. Chinese leaders are realising that if they continue to pursue an ‘aggressive’ posture on both these issues; not only there will be a huge setback to China’s ‘peaceful rise’ conjecture in the neighbourhood region, and in due course affect China’s trade and economic contacts; but also it will be conducive for the USA to persuade smaller and bigger powers in the region to its fold. This will be against China’s strategic interests when the Americans are constantly searching for new partners in the region under their new strategic focus on Asia vis-à-vis Asia-Pacific. In short, China will not relax its position or compromise in its claim over the South China and East China Sea; but may show some restrain over its ‘assertiveness’ in coming times.

    Trespassers will be Prosecuted: China’s latest Billboard in the South China Sea

    The issuance of these ordinances will not only add to the growing tensions in the disputed areas, specifically the South China Sea, but also add to the growing suspicions about Chinese intent.

    December 08, 2012

    Manisha asked: What is at stake for India in the South China Sea? What has been India's stand in that conflict so far?

    S.S. Parmar replies: India’s stakes in the South China Sea can be viewed as economic and diplomatic. Both these aspects impinge on India’s ‘Look East Policy’. The economic factor is driven by the presence of energy resources and trade that plies between India and the nations in the region. The energy factor is significant given the reported energy potential of the region. Diplomatically India would like to be seen as a responsible growing power that advocates healthy relations between nations, thereby ensuring a secure regional architecture wherein nations settle their differences amicably. In standing with this approach, India has adopted a neutral stance, and has requested nations to sort out their differences peacefully. India has further requested the nations to establish a code of conduct that would ensure ‘freedom of navigation’ and ‘access to resources’. On May 10, 2012, the MEA, while responding to a media query on recent developments in the South China Sea, had stated:

    “We have been following with concern recent developments involving China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Maintenance of peace and security in the region is of vital interest to the international community. India urges both countries to exercise restraint and resolve the issue diplomatically according to principles of international law.”

    Therefore, India continues to engage nations of the region that is in standing with its ‘Look East Policy’. An example is the recent deployment of four naval ships in the region and the conduct of exercises with the navies of South Korea, Japan and even China.

    Syed Tahseen Raza asked: What is China's String of Pearl doctrine?

    Rukmani Gupta replies: China 's investments in India's strategic neighbourhood are seen by some as part of a concerted strategy by the Chinese PLA to limit, if not contain, India's power projection abilities. These investments stretch from the South China Sea to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. Sittwe and Coco Islands in Myanmar, alleged investments in port facilities in Thailand and Cambodia, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan along with investments in the Maldives are said to be components of this “String of Pearls”. China’s military modernization, its pursuit of a blue-water navy along with the "String of Pearls" are believed to be indicators that China will seek an increasingly active role in the Indian Ocean Region.

    While there is no denying that these investments can be used to contain India's military force projection, they must also be seen for their utility in assuring China's economic and energy security in the long term.