South China Sea and possible options

Given the fact that US has warned  China following the surveillance balloon saga and China has proposed a peace plan  for resolving the Russia Ukraine war, there is a possibility that US might be bargaining with China on two major issues which includes resuming that trade between the two countries and also working  with China to reduce tensions in Eastern Europe. . President Biden acknowledges the fact that in order to address inflation across US  which includes in terms of energy prices and commodities it is critical that the Russia-Ukraine war should end.  President Biden met President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G 20 summit last year  and both expressed hope that the world recovers fast from the global recession which is looming large on the horizon.The pertinent question is in the wake of tensions across Taiwan Straits and ongoing problems in South China Sea or East Sea, how the draft Code of Conduct would be negotiated .  In such a context finalising negotiations on the draft COC would serve the interests the claimants and also bring hope for materialising the working mechanism in this regard.However, without international support any CoC would not be respected by China.

Russian President Putin did not attend the G 20 meeting last year given the fact that Indonesia has also invited Ukraine to the meeting. It seems that Germany is keen to resolve the Ukraine crisis and German Chancellor Olaf has his reservations in rearming Ukraine.  Saudi Arabia has expressed it’s keenness to join BRICS and therefore the whole geo- political scenario has changed in the last few months. US had requested Saudi Arabia to increase oil output but it has refused to do so and therefore US  wants to punish Saudi Arabia for the very fact that it did not toe  the US line.  Already  many European nations have expressed their inability to impose prolonged sanctions on Russia given their dependence of oil on Russia and therefore it seems that President Putin has been successful in challenging US  dominance in global geopolitics with its Russian adventure in Ukraine.With Russia and China supporting each other by supply of defence equipment’s and weapons ,  any developments in South China Sea is expected to divide UN Security Council in two parts.

In these new geopolitical permutations and combinations, it is expected that China will be imposing the fishing ban this year as well but before that it will be undertaking maritime surveillance and deployment of survey ships as it has done last year and US  will not be intervening or making any comments in this regard.Even lately maritime surveillance aircrafts of US has been followed by PLA airforce. Even the group sails  and other kinds of surveillance and reconnaissance activities will be reduced drastically from US given the fact that President Biden is facing lot of scathing attack in US for increasing unemployment and also critical reserves. Even the situation in many of the US allies and the domestic compulsions in Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan have showcased that the domestic population are not very sure of US  support at times of crisis. In such a context US need to undertake strong policy measures in South China Sea as it would become its litmus test for geopolitical commitments in the region.

In such a context it is expected that the tensions between Vietnam and China are going to flare up in South China Sea and China is going to deploy its maritime militia in a big way across the South China Sea including closer to the Exclusive Economic Zones of Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia. Also, Vietnam will have to work at international level to raise awareness but in this regard it is critical that it needs to record all the events of Chinese aggression rather than doing post mortem analysis. As already it is well known that China will be trying to reinvent the negotiations on its own terms and it is likely to bring about President Marcos to accept Chinese demands. The situation is exactly the same as in the year 2003 when China has proposed toe joint development of the South China Sea but there by reverted to its antics  in the contested waters .

It has been seen in the past the despite best of the efforts by the Vietnamese governments there has not been much attention given by the international community. Even in that context the support that was garnered by Vietnam in raising the issue in UN platforms came in a delayed manner and the ASEAN countries were unable to mobilise support on the issue of extended continental shelf and Chinese activities in the contentious zone. Vietnam can undertake four  serious measures which includes hosting the maritime security summit, seeking compliance and maintaining status quo till the final  agreement of code of conduct on South China Sea is materialised. Also it needs to put up various surveillance and video monitoring devices where all activities of China can be recorded and should be provided to the international community on a real time basis. This includes putting up a website where all these activities and videos are available along with the historical background of the crisis. Last but not the least Vietnam should host the International Maritime exhibition which can bring about ships from different countries.

India has also been monitoring the developments in South China Sea from its own satellites and also looking into possibility of collaboration and cooperation with Vietnam given the fact that Chinese maritime militia has also been seen in the Indian Ocean region. In that context the two countries can share the best practices and also discuss ways and means to reduce the influence of the maritime militia, both in South China Sea and Indian Ocean region. It is expected that with the tacit ignorance of US,  China will be using more undersea gliders to look into the activities of other nations and also hampering them by using kamikaze methods which means colliding  the undersea gliders into the hull of the ships which might be doing service or other activities in South China Sea. This way it can maintain the anti-access and area denial for its  ships and maritime militia. India has also been launching its Navy satellites to look into the Indian Ocean region and therefore Vietnam need to commission a serious project of its own naval satellite which can provide data and imagery on a real time basis.This  way Vietnam will be more adept at looking into the activities of China and preparing accordingly. This can be a joint venture between India and Vietnam which can help both countries in collecting data and images both for operational and tactical reasons. Further, the two countries can undertake exercises which might be primarily aimed at countering submarine activities and undertaking operational measures to counter that kind of a menace.

South China Sea or East Sea is an issue which cannot be ignored for long as it will usher Beijing area of control in the region and would mark a serious degradation of US capabilities in the long run.

Prof. Pankaj Jha
Prof. Pankaj Jha
Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]