China’s defense of its sovereignty in the Nine Lines region in the South China Sea


Several countries overlooking the South China Sea, specifically China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei, are disputing sovereignty over areas and part of it, but tensions in that region have escalated recently, due to American interventions, especially in the South China Sea, under the pretext of protecting its regional allies, such as Japan and South Korea and Philippines. But the Chinese reaction came with a determination to demarcate the Nine Lines area, that is, to define its broad areas of control over most of the part and the territorial waters in the South China Sea. It includes (the nine-line area through which China defends its rights in the South China Sea), which are the nine lines that cover most of the South China Sea and overlap with the exclusive economic zone claims of the Sultanate of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, which is called  Each of them has the right to the part that China claims under its sovereignty, such as the Pratas Islands, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal, and the Spratly Islands between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and other parts of the region that are also disputed by Malaysia and the Philippines.  In 2012, China took control of the Scarborough Shoal area in response to the actions of the Philippine Navy, which stopped Chinese fishing boats in the area surrounding China in the South China Sea.

   In addition to what was recently raised about China’s construction of an airstrip on a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, according to satellite images taken by the United States. Triton Island, which is disputed between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, is one of the main islands in the Paracel Islands group in the South China Sea, which is located at approximately equal distance from the coast of Vietnam and the Chinese province of Hainan, located on Paracel Island in the South China Sea.  What sparked tension between the disputed countries of the South China Sea was what satellite images showed of the existence of works to build an airstrip for Chinese forces. These are the leaked images that first appeared on the first of August 2023.

  Therefore, China has strengthened its control over large parts of the South China Sea to maintain its territorial sovereignty, by constructing artificial islands there and conducting naval patrols in its waters. This is in response to American provocations against China by sending their warships and military aircraft to areas near the disputed islands in the South China Sea, under the name of “freedom of navigation operations”, with the aim of keeping all sea and air navigation routes open to everyone, according to the American claim, which is what the Chinese side rejects it. Hence, the Chinese and Americans began exchanging accusations that the other side was intending to “militarize” the South China Sea at the expense of the other party.  Especially with American support for the Taiwanese side and encouraging it to secede from China.

 China has resorted to building islands in the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands in particular since 2013. These measures were met with American and Western rejection, and since 2015 the United States and other countries such as France and Britain have conducted operations under the pretext of freedom of navigation also in the South China Sea, which angered and provoked Beijing.

   China has rejected all accusations that it is militarizing the vital waterway, through which an estimated $5 trillion in trade passes annually in the South China Sea, stressing that it has the right to do whatever it wants in the part of its sovereign territory.

  Here, the intensity of friction between NATO and the United States of America, on the one hand, and China, on the other hand, is increasing in the various disputed parts of the South China Sea, especially in Taiwan and the territorial waters of the South China Sea, which is almost turning into a primary arena of conflict between Beijing and Washington.  The latest stage of the confrontation is what the Chinese army confirmed a few months ago, by removing an American military cruiser armed with guided missiles that entered illegally into the waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Tian Junli, spokesman for the Southern Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, also warned that the actions of the American army seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security.

  Therefore, Beijing intensified military and diplomatic pressure, carried out air and naval exercises around the South China Sea and near the Taiwan Strait, and convinced some provinces that support Taiwan to stop doing so. The leadership of the Eastern and Southern Theater of Operations of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army confirmed that the theater of military operations had conducted patrols focused on coordination and testing the combat capabilities of its forces in joint operations, in a serious warning to the American side and its allies.  Hence, the US-Chinese conflict over the South China Sea began using the Taiwan card by Washington, especially with Taiwan and China’s increasing strengthening of their military status in the South China Sea, and the United States’ support for the Taiwanese. Several Chinese warplanes began flying and conducted tactical movements near the dividing line at the Taiwan Strait in the South China Sea. These Chinese warships and aircraft also crossed the highly sensitive middle line in the Taiwan Strait, as an unusual step on the part of China during the past years.

   The Chinese army began exercises in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, which Taiwan described as a serious warning to separatist forces, while Taiwan criticized what it described as China’s military mentality and said that it would deploy appropriate forces to respond.  The United States of America is helping Taiwan politically, economically, and militarily, as an American attempt to undermine Chinese influence on the Taiwanese island and the South China Sea, which it considers a competitor to it for global influence. The geographical location of the South China Sea near the Taiwanese Strait is of great importance to Washington, in the event that China succeeds in if Taiwan is annexed by force, it will be freer to display its military power in the Western Pacific region. This is what Washington sees as a threat to its military bases in distant places, such as the bases of “Guam in South Korea, Hawaii, and Okinawa in Japan”, but China insists that its intentions are peaceful, and insists on regaining full sovereignty over all of its islands in the South China Sea by expanding the construction of artificial materials islands to confirm their ownership of it. So the American side is playing the Taiwanese card to put pressure on the Chinese.

   Here we can understand the American strategy to intervene in the dispute of the South China Sea countries confronting China, based on the American strategy for “rebalancing East Asia and the South China Sea”, which Washington announced in 2012, to prevent China from achieving its regional hegemony over most of the islands. The disputed territorial waters of the South China Sea, because this poses a threat to the influence of the United States of America and its strategic interests, so American policy worked to build its strategy with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan politically, security-wise, and economically, to contain China’s Asian depth in all sovereign countries in the South China Sea.  By strengthening its alliance politically and strengthening the strategic partnership with its allies by concluding security, economic and military agreements, such as: (Aukus Alliance and Quad Alliance), and others. The American side used their Japanese ally to obstruct China’s expansion in the South China Sea, because, according to the American perspective, Japan is the only Asian power capable of balancing China’s rising power.  Both China and the United States of America place many geopolitical, military and economic considerations to justify control and sovereignty over the South China Sea, and the resulting repercussions on the strategy of building new American and Chinese alliances in Asia, and the impact of this on the strategic balance in all regions surrounding the South China Sea.  Or the Indo-Pacific region and the politics of the balance of power in the East Asia and South China Sea region.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit