Essay: The South China Sea Conflict

In order to better understand how these terms relate to what this paper wants to explain and develop, in what follows, a historical background of the conflict will be contained and explained. After that the flow of arguments will be comprehensive for the reader. The South China Sea conflict is not a new one and it has a lot of implications. Only an overlook of this conflict can be explanatory enough in order for the paper to be relevant.
2.2 Historical background of the conflict

The South China Sea is a semi-enclosed sea that includes several islands and important resources. The area includes the Paracels and the Spratlys islands. The area started to be of importance after the 20th century, and until that moment it did not represent worth mentioning in any negotiation or war. At the beginning the Paracels and the Spratlys islands were under French domination and after the defeat of France in World War II, they were handed over to Japan. It remained under Japanese domination until the end of the war and after the war ended Japan renounced its sovereignty over the region. The archipelagoes remained unoccupied. This was the moment in which the region started to raise interest in the eyes of the neighbors and they started negotiations as everyone wants a part of rich resources that the area has (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002).
The issue became of importance for the entire world, not only for those that would have a direct control over the region. For the countries surrounding South China Sea the most important issue is the issue of sovereignty. Especially for the traditional countries like China, Taiwan, Vietnam sovereignty is an important factor that matters for the image of the country. The retrieval of islands and of under their domination would erase to a certain extent the humiliation that they had to face when the area was under European domination. For China for example, the entire SCS belongs to it (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013). The economic benefits are an important factor that heightens the desire of PRC for the region.
Resources are mainly of interest for all the parties involved in this conflict and ultimately high stakes mean hard negotiation. The large quantities of natural resources, especially energy and a large amount of fish resources made countries that do not consider sovereignty such an important issue to become interested in the area as well. Another debatable issue would the amount of oil that could be exploited in the South China Sea, but the numbers are high (Ma Shaohua, 2006). Given the fact that most of the countries in the area are oil importers, the eagerness to dominate the region becomes clearer. Great emphasis is put on the fishery business especially because of the shortages announced in what regards the seafood stock of Asian countries in the region. In China, for example, the seafood consumption has grown to a high extent in the last years (Ma Shaohua, 2006).
It is important to note the reasons for which non-claimants are interested in the area. If the region would pass under the sovereignty of a given state the free pass of ships in the area would not be free anymore. Under these circumstances free navigation is an important element that needs to be taken into consideration in this equation (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002). Important shipments pass through the region with cargos that are directed towards United States, Japan and Middle East. Trade is exercised to a great extent there and domination would restrain the trade. These countries would prefer a free lane of passage in order to ensure that their shipments reach the destination and they want to ensure this as peacefully as possible (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013).
China assumes that some ancient Chinese objects found in the area ensure the Chinese sovereignty in the region. Also, documents and ancient Chinese writings have been presented as proof for the sustaining China’s point of view. Besides the upper mentioned attempts China also forcibly tried to gain access to Paracels islands in 1947 when it they attacked the Vietnamese forces. In that moment they were more interested in the Paracels islands and in this way they ended the Vietnamese presence in the western part of the archipelago (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002).
Vietnam considers on the other hand that the Paracels islands were part of Vietnam and this is the reason for which they were together colonized by France. Also, they claim that the islands were returned to Vietnam by France after WWII . Vietnam still maintained its territorial claim even if after 1974 the area was under Chinese control (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002). Attempts have been made on both sides to start military actions against the other, but except for the 1974 violent encounter, they did not take under domination the archipelago in a violent manner.
The Paracels islands are disputed mainly by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. The archipelago is located in the northwestern part of the South China Sea and in this particular part the main issue is that of domination over the region. The other archipelago that is disputed is the Spratlys that is located to the South of the Sea. Here the controversies are of a higher degree because it involves as well the free pass of shipments mentioned before. This area is disputed by several countries like China, Vietnam and Taiwan and besides these three by Brunei, The Philippines and Malaysia. Indonesia only wants the Natuna, an island close to the Indonesian shore, territory that is claimed by China as well (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002).
The countries involved in the Paracels dispute sustained their claims based on historical proves, however the other actors involved decided to use International law to back-up their stories. With regards to this they used especially the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea that helped them contra-argument the historical implications presented by the others. Military forces have been deployed on the islands from all parties involved except Brunei. In this way China sent troops on 9 islands, Taiwan enjoys one island, but the biggest one from the Spratlys archipelago, Malaysia has three, Philippines 8 and Vietnam is the proud occupant of 25 little islands (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Martin, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002).
The distribution of islands started in 1970 and since then each of the countries involved started to get their fair share of islands. Even if China claims the entire region, it was the last one to actively occupy islands (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002). China wants everything and considers that the islands belong to it entirely without possibility for division. Important to mention here is that China started its occupation through an attack against Vietnam and it was the only one that adopted this type of method of occupation. That particular moment was the trigger that made China to be seen as a possible danger by the entire international scene and it always raised international concern. China made another attempt against Philippines and this turnover made things worse as the Philippines was part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations . This pin point represented the moment in which everyone realized the importance of the matter and the fact that an unresolved conflict may start another violent treat from China. Especially after the Cold war China became an important power, fact which made its neighbors be afraid of a possible treat from China (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002).
After 1990 the region started to present tensions and unrest and starting to gain more and more attention from the international scene. The first matter on the list was to stop China from the violent stand that it took and to make sure that the conflict would be solved peacefully. In that moment multilateral negotiations started to seem a good option, engaging in this way the parties into a coordination of policies that would allow further development. This approach was embraced by the Asian states and especially within ASEAN that has as a main bases of functioning this cooperative method. Member states of ASEAN are confident about this method and the unilateral way in which China tried to continue its endeavors started to become a great issue (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002). The fact that China represented and still represents a great power, made it difficult for the other countries to engage or not in a negotiation process. The main topic of discussion was to introduce China in the multilateral process.
The conflict itself involves several actors, so for all of them it is clear that a multilateral negotiation would be of a great importance. A bilateral approach would only increase tensions and suspicion. Also, the parties involved believe that bilateral negotiations would represent an advantage for China to continue its hegemonic expansion in the region and in the same time this ASEAN way would make China embrace this type of conflict resolution for the future. Important to note is that China does not have the exercise of multilateralism and it is of great importance to take into consideration the fact that the Chinese way of government does not permit external intervention is national business (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Martin, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002).
Even if China was reluctant at the beginning Premier Li Peng’s visit in 1990 was an attitude considered as a proof that China would engage in peaceful conflict settlement. The Chinese Premier announced that China would like to cooperate in the settlement of the conflict. Soon, the Chinese foreign minister decided that they would still like the bilateral negotiation. They tagged the multilateral negotiations as consultations, but never acknowledged their true essence. The first attempt to start multilateral cooperation was the workshop hosted by Indonesia called ‘Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea’ . The first meeting was supposed to find out the real strategy of China and it was exclusively created for ASEAN members (Ma Shaohua, 2006; Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014; Kivim??ki, 2002). From then on China embraced thise project and joined the meetings organized.
In 1991 China had the chance for the first time to have a stand in multilateral discussions. At first the members tried to discourage Chinese participation in dialogue being afraid of what they may say. In this way they avoided the discussions regarding the disputes and this first meeting with China was an introductory discussion more than an actual dialogue. Chinese representatives embraced this approach and during the meeting in 1992, when Vietnam started the discussions with regards to the issue in the South China Sea, China reiterated its position and adopted the formal position again. In 1995 the First ASEAN Regional Forum was organized and it represented the moment in which the issue was actually discussed. In 1995, after the Mishief Reef incident, China announced that wanted to negotiate peacefully the entire issue, but its actions were others (Ma Shaohua, 2006)
Of course that not all disputes are centered on China and another country, other countries have overlapping claims, the difference is that they adopted the multilateral method before and negotiations were started earlier. Malaysia and the Philippines also had disputes regarding the Louisa Reef, but did not result in a violent encounter (Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014). The other countries managed to show solidarity and to share their concerns upon jurisdictional issues.
After 2000 various encounters took place and for example, in 2001, US EP-3 conducting a reconnaissance flight in the South China Sea entered a collision with one Chinese F-8. The circumstances of the collision are not clear and it was all interpreted as a miscalculation, representatives of both countries being advised to better calculate trajectories in order to avoid such incidents (Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014). In 2009, the issue of international security was raised again when in March Chinese vessels clashed with US surveillance ships. China accused the United States, claiming that the presence of the American vessels in the area is not legal. The requests for the America Impeccable vessel to leave the area were quite violent from the Chinese party and ASEAN started to be more and more concerned (Rotolo, 2013; Martin, 2013; Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014).
These types of issues continue to occur all the time and most of the declared encounters on sea are portrayed as harassments of Chinese ships. The delimitations imposed by law are not clear and in many instances there was a necessity to delimitate the continental shelf. The first limit imposed was that each island should be entitled to 12 miles of territorial sea. There are no concrete requirements in what regards the rights of exploitation of resources or fishery in the rest of the sea and this has also raised tensions between the neighboring countries in the region (Roy, 2013; Shicun&Hong, 2014).
Even after tens of years since the dispute started the situation is basically the same. After many negotiations, multilateral or bilateral, this situation escalated in 2014 when China placed an oil rig the South China Sea, near the Paracel Islands (The Guardian, 2014; CNN, 2014; The Diplomat, 2014; The Times, 2014). In 2014, China, Vietnam and the Philippines were involved in a series of incidents. Vietnam accuses China of treats against the ships that were passing near the Paracels islands, currently under Chinese administrative control. China responds that they were treated as such because they were interrupting the drilling activities and are undergone by China in the region. Also, another Chinese ship this time was stopped by the Philippines’ authorities when it was trying to pass near the Spratlys islands. More and more scholars debated the idea of an imminent armed conflict in the region. As mentioned before in the paper, one of the most important and defining issues that escalated the conflict was the oil rig planted by China near the Paracels islands (The Guardian, 2014; CNN, 2014; The Diplomat, 2014; The Times, 2014). Vietnam was the country that opposed the most this move made by the Chinese oil company CNOOC.
China deployed military vessels in the region to ensure the free activity of the rig with its three miles of exclusion zone. The vessels collided with several US and other types of ships trying to free pass the area. Most of the ships were fishing ships and trade ships. Chinese representatives declared that Vietnam is the one causing conflict given the fact that they consider the area China’s territorial waters (The Guardian, 2014; CNN, 2014). China’s actions to put the drill in the disputed area was interpreted by all the actors involved in the conflict and the international actors as a type of unilateral behavior that was settled way back. The most important result of the latest events was an US-Philippines security past called Enhanced Defense Cooperation agreement that permits US access in the area (The Guardian, 2014; CNN, 2014; The Diplomat, 2014).
After pressure from the outside actors and in order to avoid an incident as a result against China from Vietnam, China decided to move the oil rig from the contested area (The Guardian, 2014). Even if they decided to do this, the tensions between China, Vietnam and all the other countries that have a share or would like to have a share of the South China Sea continue. China still prefers bilateral negotiations and wants the biggest share of the pie. The other countries do not stand back and lock for more and more outside support like United Sates, Japan and other Asian countries.

2.3 Theories on the South China Sea

This paper gathered together several papers on the subject. At first it might have seemed difficult to find the necessary support to write this paper on the Conflict in the South China Sea given the fact that the latest events occurred only in 2013, 2014. It was more than interesting to find out that this subject raised a lot of interest lately and that more and more states are involved in the conflict. The main issue concerning for all the authors is the reason for which this conflict was not handled yet and also for them it was interesting to check the reasons for which this conflict is still dangerous and may escalate quickly.
In order for us to better understand the notion of negotiation and the practice of it within several domains, also this paper used Tanya Alfredson’s and Azeta Cungu’s article on ‘Negotiation Theory and Practice’. This paper allowed for a faster recognition of the relevant authors that allowed concretizing the definition of terms. Alfredson and Cungu showed in its paper that we live in a world in which people and actors in general interact in million of ways and that there is an imperative need to try to find ways to solve daily conflicts that may appear. As already mentioned, we live in a totally globalized world and it is harsh to imagine that since now this South China Sea conflict was not solved. The South China Sea conflict started to become an issue especially After the Cold War and yet as the author mentions in her article, negotiation started to be developed especially after the Cold war (Alfredson & Cungu, 2008).
On the same path as the upper mentioned article, Professor Michael Dues explains to his students the meaning of negotiation as a peaceful way of conflict management. As he mentions, all conflicts should have a resolution. Especially conflicts that are usually located on a lower scale on the stages of conflict should be solved easily compared to other conflicts (Dues, 2010). In the case of South China Sea it should be easier to peacefully solve a conflict through negotiation given the circumstances. There are no premises of violent conflict and it has not become yet an international incident. Only lately when China decided that it basically wants the entire sea. It is important to note that there is always place for negotiation.
Ury and Fisher, develop in Getting to Yes the principled negotiation theory. Their theory implies knowing the reason behind the demand in order to be able to delimitate a good negotiation (Fisher & Ury, 1991). In the case of the SCS conflict, a principled negotiation between the states involved would probably ease the tensions and the true reasons behind their arguments will be revealed. China claims only that it wants the region because of historical purposes. Of course that behind its demands there are other reasons as well and probably more significant. Also, Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, they also have economic and other types of reasons for which they want the region. For example one may want a certain area because of security, one for mineral resources and one for oil, but it is important to find each country’s reasons in order to be able to find a suitable solution for all.
Deepak Malhotra writes about the importance of trust in negotiation. In order to a negotiation to work it is demanding to have faith in the other. Trust is earned and it is consolidated in time, without trust there is no relation and no concession, the entire purpose of the negotiation fails. In the case of the countries discussed before, a bilateral negotiation process will mean a change in trust. Mistrust can develop because of the secret nature of the bilateral discussions (Deepak Malhotra, 2003). Countries can become suspicious and trends can change. In this case a multilateral approach seems more feasible.
Graham and Lam in their article regarding Chinese negotiation talk about the way in which Chinese negotiation goes in the context of business and political issues. They rely on principles and idea that the roots of the culture are deeply combined with the daily life. There are eight main elements to take into consideration when negotiating with Chinese (Graham &Lam, 2003). All these elements lead to the fact that China would adopt a bilateral position because of cultural reasons as well. First of all, the personal connection is important for the Chinese and Asian countries. The Westerners put a lot of emphasize on information and innovation while the Chinese price personal relations and connections that built trust among the group (Graham &Lam, 2003). Secondly, Chinese people like to work with intermediaries. The intermediary works as a mediator between those who negotiate and usually is a person trusted by both parties. Friendship is appreciated in the Chinese culture (Graham &Lam, 2003). Westerners tend to rely more on personal face to face talks and to push the limits to the point that the system may break.

Chinese also appreciate social status; they are motivated when talking with people of the same position and not of a lower rank (Graham &Lam, 2003). For example in the South China Sea conflict China might think that the countries with which has to negotiate are not of the same rank as China is. Also, with respect to this it is important to mention that in all the meetings that China was invited for this purpose, they sent a person with a high position. Interpersonal harmony would be the next factor that we have to take into consideration when negotiating business with the Chinese (Graham &Lam, 2003). They admire and value friendly relations, friendship produces money. This may be a good theoretical explanation for which China did not start a violent conflict yet, they know that there is a high chance for the other countries to become allies and together with the international allies to become a real danger for China.
Holistic thinking is one of the most valued principles by the Chinese. The main issue that is not understood by the other countries when talking about negotiation is that Chinese tend to see everything as a whole while the others take everything piece by piece (Graham &Lam, 2003). China for sure sees the South China Sea as a whole while the others can see it as regions and islands and resources. From here the drive demonstrated by China to have control over the entire area. They also have the exercise of thrift, meaning they like to save as much as they can and to try to negotiate until they know that they got the best prices, agreements and advantages (Graham &Lam, 2003). Again, as talked before here can be identified the bilateral nature of the Chinese negotiation and also this may be the reason for which so far no agreement has been reached in the area.
For the Chinese the position and prestige is very importance. The idea of saving face is important for all nations, but in the case of China it can be said that it is heightened (Graham &Lam, 2003). China is used with hard labor and hard bargaining. Under these circumstances it developed endurance to time and complicated situations and people. In this way it is important to give time it time and patience. This is how they think, negotiate and decide, upon these terms it is mandatory to work and even if attempts are made for a multilateral method to be accepted by China, it is still debatable if this will be possible.
As Moffit and Bordon say in their book ‘The handbook of dispute resolution’ each conflict resolution technique needs to be tailored and adjusted in such a way in order for it to be the best resolution possible for that particular conflict (Moffit &Bordon, 2005). Peaceful conflict resolution is not very developed in the Asian countries and this represents a risk as well. Only one that handles with care and greatness the art of negotiation can alienate the demands of all in one offer.
With regards to the reasons for which the conflict in the South China sea persists and the reasons for which it did not escalate yet, Hermans in 2012 for example was analyzing the perpetuating status of the South China Sea conflict in a thesis quite self explanatory and captivating. In this thesis, the author tries to explain the reasons for which this conflict did not escalate, but it wasn’t solved either through three perspectives: process based constructivism, hedging, and regional multilateralism (Hermans, 2012). As it can be seen the multilateral issue is debated and linked with the conflict by other writers on the subject as well. First it is important to find reasons for which they failed in order to be able find possible solutions. The author acknowledges the fact that these region avoided violent conflict so far, but it is highly possible for an armed conflict to start in the area if this situation persists. Also, given the fact that this paper will put emphasis on the negotiation process, Herman’s paper provides enough information with regards to the ASEAN failures in what regards the negotiation processes.
According to the author, multilateral and bilateral negotiations have their advantages and disadvantages. As in the case of the discussed region, multilateral negotiations have failed to deliver an outcome yet. It is important to mention here that the Chinese part did not want multilateral negotiation from the beginning, wanting to adopt a bilateral process. The Multilateral method in this way could have delayed the agreement and in one way it would have been better to adopt China’s way, at least to try to solve what is of a higher importance for the moment and to stabilize the area.
As already mentioned this conflict does not evolve around China and other country only, even if China has the highest claims of all, but the conflict affects other countries as well. Ravi A. Balaram wrote ‘Case Study: The Myanmar and Bangladesh Maritime Boundary Dispute in the Bay of Bengal and Its Implications for South China’, a paper that talks about one dispute upon the claims that have been made within the South China Sea during the years. The paper explains and dissects the implications of the Myanmar and Bangladesh dispute upo

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