CHINA’s muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific region came under sharp scrutiny at the 18th East Asia Summit and the 20th ASEAN-India Summit held in Indonesian capital Jakarta earlier this week. Underlining the importance of peace, security and prosperity in the region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea should be effective and in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS). The South China Sea is a strategic waterway through which about $3 trillion worth of global ship-borne consignments pass every year; over half of India’s trade with the Indo-Pacific region is routed through these waters. Even though the Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the UNCLOS had ruled against China in 2016, Beijing continues to lay unreasonable claims to the entire South China Sea, riding roughshod over other stakeholders such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
Evidently, aggrieved nations are ganging up against China. India and its allies are sending out a stern message: China can no longer throw its weight around and get away with it. Fellow Quad member Australia has extended support to the Philippines on its festering dispute against China, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stating that the 2016 arbitral award is ‘final and binding’.
Even though Chinese Premier Li Qiang has stated that Beijing will ‘continue to firmly support’ the central role of the United Nations in international affairs, China’s blatant disregard for the UNCLOS betrays the ground reality. The latest proof of the Dragon’s maritime aggressiveness is a Global Times report, which says that China has successfully conducted a geological ‘CT scan’ of the deep seabed in the South China Sea. The exercise has been described as a ‘breakthrough in electromagnetic detection technology under complex deep-sea terrain conditions, breaking the West’s technological monopoly’. An incorrigible China is bent on keeping its rivals/competitors on their toes, but they are becoming increasingly vocal in expressing their disapproval.
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