– KEY ASPECTS OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTE-The dispute is majorly concerned with territorial and sovereignty claims over the vast oceanic waters in the Pacific Ocean region (1.4 square million miles). The South China Sea has become a bone of contention amongst various countries of the region including PRC (People’s Republic of China), Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan (ROC), Malaysia and Brunei. The initial contention arose due to the maritime claims over the region arising due to the belligerent attitude of PRC backing its claims over the region with its historical assertions of the 9-dash-line. Some of the most crucial island groups engulfed in the dispute are the Spratlys, Paracels, Pratas and Macclesfield bank. GEOPOLITICAL IMPLICATIONSa. Mineral Rich/Natural Resources-The concerned area is a vast region enriched with a lot of minerals and natural resources; not to forget the other entities as in a large number of islands, rocky outcrops, atolls, sandbanks, reefs (e.g. the Scarborough Shoal). The region is a huge fishing ground amounting to about 3000 indigenous and migratory fish species (12% of the global fish catch). As per the World Bank, the region has oil reserves of about 7 billion barrels and 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Hence a strategic advantage in the region leads to a gargantuan economic opportunity to the regional nations.b. Freedom of Navigation-The dispute’s far reaching consequences can be understood from the fact that the same has huge potential to blockade freedom of navigation as well as global trade routes. Great powers like the USA have gotten involved in the dispute apprehending the restrictions the dispute might create for the Freedom of Navigation over the vast sea and hence a lesser US presence in the region; not to forget the hurdles in the access to its allies in the region which the situation may pose (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, etc.).c. Trade Route/EEZAs per UNCLOS, each coastal nation has its particular Exclusive Economic Zone and hence China, by building up artificial islands in the region, has led to apprehensions of its EEZ being increasing in turn, leading to grave economic losses to the surrounding nations. Not to forget the fact that about 50% of the global oil trade occurs in this region, making it one of the busiest international trade regions of the world. And hence a strategic upper hand in the region goes a long way in global economic dominance.d. MilitarisationThe long continuing militarisation of the region including that of the artificial islands has led to potential stakes in the arms race in the region. Such a scenario has led to smaller nations moving towards military build-ups. Vietnam and Malaysia have started partaking in arms trade with Russia and India. While Philippines moved up its defence budget and also a 5-year joint military exercise with the US. RECALIBRATION OF TRUMP’S PAKISTAN POLICYThe ongoing recalibration of Mr. Trump’s Pakistan policy has become a watershed event in the long held relations between the two after granting $33 bn in the past 15 yrs. Nonetheless, Pakistan’s pro-China tilt has never remained concealed from anyone. The growing influence of the PRC in Pakistan in the form of joint military exercises along with the flagship CPEC project of the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has clearly expressed the warmness in ties between the two Asian countries. So far so that the Pakistan’s Minister for Planning and Development, Mr. Ahsan Iqbal expressed tha the US dollar may be replaced by the Chinese Yuan in the trade between the two. Such a scenario has the potential to adversely impact the stability in the South Asian region in the following manner:-a. ARMS RACE/LEVERAGE TO CHINAChinese engagement with its “all-weather” ally Pakistan has the potential to seriously hamper the “Balance of Power” in the region. It is reported that Pakistan has been adding Chinese-built reactors to its tactical weapon programmes, which might lead to India running to catch up with such an arms race.b. TERRORISM REPRISALThe US’ censure of Pakistan’s little efforts against Terror groups and its further denial to provide economic aid have the potential to Pakistan loosening its grips over the terrorist groups like the Al-Qaeda and Taliban which will give them opportunity to wreak havoc again and affect the infrastructure and development of Afghanistan, and India to a certain extent. c. INDIA’s ROLE IN AFGHANISTANTrump has encouraged India’s newer role in the assistance to Afghanistan. This came as a “shock” to the Pakistani political clout. The same has the potential of Pakistan despising India and USA more and more. The increasing role of India in Afghanistan is set to corner the role of China in its neighbour (i.e. Pakistan). d. ANTI-US AXISThe developments are a signal to a probable anti-US” China-Pakistan-Russia” axis. And a similar inclination of India towards US has the potential of brittling the 5 decades of India-Russia relations and further posing a threat to India as a regional economic and diplomatic heavyweight.
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