Region is a geographic feature with pliable boundaries. Regions are not static but dynamic. Mariam Webster defined regions as “an administrative area, division, or district.”[i] Regions can be redefined keeping in mind the gains and profits. Regions unlike continents are manmade features; man enjoys the unique position to exploit this for their own benefit. There are many examples, elaborating the dynamic nature of regions; such as Afghanistan which was included into the South Asia just recently. Another example is Greater Middle East, a political term introduced under the bush administration by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in their paper as part of the U.S. administration’s preparatory work for the G8 summit of June 2004.[ii] Hence regions serve the political purposes and one such example under discussion is Asia Pacific.
Asia Pacific is a commercial region consisting of the whole of Asia as well as the countries of the Pacific Rim. It includes: [iii]
- South Asia
- East Asia
- South-East Asia
With that being said it is fair to say that for Asia Pacific the regional security complexes are the patterns of amity and enmity of all the above colliding with each other.
Asia pacific security dilemma is complex and developing. There are a number of nuclear states. Security dilemma means when the security advances of one state put the security of another state at risk.[iv] China’s security advances cause the unrest in India and push them to increase their stockpile. India’s security advances cause the unrest in Pakistan and hence the increase in stock pile and security measures. This pattern is continued throughout the region. The pattern of amity and enmity within the region rangesfrom issues around ethnicity and religion to strategic partnership and even nukes.There are territorial disputes and water disputes as well in the region. Because of the multiplicity of international actors, party to disputes the alliances formed are also complex and strong.
Asia-Pacific is a cauldron of serious security challenges, such as nuclear proliferation, escalating tensions and threats in the Korean Peninsula, overlapping claims and militarization of the disputed territories and islands in the South China Sea, Pakistan-India deadlock over Kashmir, China-India rivalry, Afghanistan, ethnic and religious conflict in Myanmar and the raging threat of non-state actors such as ISIS.[v] With so many issues and security threats, Asia-Pacific is a boiling pot, which can bubble up any time soon leading to conventional military confrontation possibly the largest after the WW-II
South China Sea is an important trade route, the sea lines of communication holds the strategic importance for the states. Total trade volume that passed through the South China Sea in 2016 was valued around $3.37 Trillion. On top of that; 40 percent of the total global liquefied natural gas trade transited through the South China Sea in 2017.[vi] It is also rich in fisheries and natural resources. All these coupled together increases the states’ interest and complexity of conflict.
The United Nations Convention on Law of Sea (UNCLOS) was concluded in 1982 and finally came into force in 1994. According to this, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is stretched to 200 nautical miles; that encompasses sole exploitation rights of coastal nations over marine resources.[vii] For years China, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan have been in a border debate over the South China Sea. China draws the 9-dash line and claims that the Paracel, Spratly, Zhongsha and Pratas, all belong to them.[viii] The South China Sea Arbitration case was brought against China for its effective control of maritime features in the South China Sea that are part of a territorial dispute. The case was decided on July 12, 2016 in favor of Philippines.[ix]
China is the strongest state party to the conflict, Philippines have a lot other democracies supporting its stance and backing it in the conflict. US and Philippines have both signed and ratified the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) back in the early 1950s.[x] Other than this there have been several incidents where fishermen were harassed by Chinese state authorities and US’ warships have also been seen multiple times in the territorial waters of the South China Sea.
South China Sea is heavily militarized by the presence of US, Australia, Japan and above all China’s territorial expansions via the means of artificial islands. These islands have been used as bases equipped with high end military equipment. US-China trade wars are more common in non-traditional form of war. Though the South China Sea has the potential to transform to a full fledge military confrontation.
[iv]Jie,Dalei. “The Asia-Pacific Pivot and U.S.-China Security Dilemma.”https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=816116074064002021088016092071026081024036042028091005105067116026092070091075085126009003116014006009030065114022096110109092114026028080092004078100120104100083090081005076082075123117027100093111084077120067126123074113095099072089102111096004007068&EXT=pdf&INDEX=TRUE
[v] Ramos-Horta, Jose. “Asia-Pacific: Some Serious Security Challenges.” Global Leadership Foundation.https://www.g-l-f.org/who-we-are/glf-members-listed-by-region/jose-ramos-horta/asia-pacific-some-serious-security-challenges/
[vi] Global Conflict Tracker. “Territorial Disputes in South China Sea.” Council on Foreign Relations. https://microsites-live-backend.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/territorial-disputes-south-china-sea
[vii]Lowy Institute. “South China Sea.” https://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/south-china-sea
[viii]Rutzick,Jacob.&Chen, Jonathan. “The Validity of the 9 Dash Line.” March 16, 2021. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/4791710315c54e6fb963e10496faa4db
[ix]Shigeki, Sakamoto. “The Global South China Sea Issue.”The Diplomat. July 4, 2021. https://thediplomat.com/2021/07/the-global-south-china-sea-issue/
[x]Official Gazette. “Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America, August 30, 1951.” GOVPH. August 30, 1951. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1951/08/30/mutual-defense-treaty-between-the-republic-of-the-philippines-and-the-united-states-of-america-august-30-1951/