Context: Vietnam and the Philippines warned of growing insecurity in Southeast Asia at the ASEAN summit, particularly due to China’s aggression in the South China Sea over the disputed territories.

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  • They indirectly criticized China for its assertiveness.
    • Since 2013, the People's Republic of China has resorted to island-building in the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands region.
  • In April 2020, Beijing unilaterally declared the creation of new administrative districts on the disputed territories.
  • A Chinese maritime vessel also sunk a Vietnamese boat in April 2020.
  • China has been pushing its presence in the Exclusive Economic Zones of other countries while claimants are preoccupied with tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

South China Sea:

  • It is an arm of the western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia, south of China, east and south of Vietnam, west of the Philippines and north of the island of Borneo. 
  • Bounded by the east coast of the Malay Peninsula and the southern part of the Gulf of Thailand. 
  • It is connected by the Taiwan Strait with the East China Sea and by the Luzon Strait with the Philippine Sea (both marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean).
  • The South China Sea is used by major international shipping lanes.
  • Hundreds of smaller harbors and three major ports, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan serve as trans-shipment centers.

South China Sea Dispute:

Source: Wikipedia

  • It is a dispute over territory and sovereignty over ocean areas, and the Paracels and the Spratlys - two island chains claimed in whole or in part by a number of countries.
  • Alongside the fully-fledged islands, there are dozens of rocky outcrops, atolls, sandbanks and reefs, such as the Scarborough Shoal.
  • Although largely uninhabited, the Paracels and the Spratlys may have reserves of natural resources around them. 
  • The sea is also a major shipping route and home to fishing grounds that supply the livelihoods of people across the region.

Who claims what?

  • China claims by far the largest portion of territory - an area defined by the "nine-dash line" which stretches hundreds of miles south and east from its most southerly province of Hainan. The claim is based on 14th-century writings from the Song Dynasty. 
  • Vietnam on the other hand, says that historical texts from at least the 15th century show that the islands were a part of its territory.
  • Malaysia and Brunei also lay claim to territory in the South China Sea that they say falls within their economic exclusion zones, as defined by UNCLOS - the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • The Philippines had sought international arbitration under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, to challenge its claims. 
  • In July 2016, the tribunal backed the Philippines' case, saying China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights.
    • China had boycotted the proceedings, and called the ruling "ill-founded". It says it will not be bound by it.
    • China prefers bilateral negotiations with the other parties. But many of its neighbors argue that China's relative size and clout give it an unfair advantage.

ASEAN(Association of SouthEast Asian Nations):

  • It is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten countries in Southeast Asia namely - Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • It promotes intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational, and sociocultural integration among its members and other countries in Asia.
  • It was established in 1967 by the Bangkok Declaration.
  • Its secretariat is located in Jakarta, Indonesia.


Image Source: The Hindu