Can South China Sea dispute escalate into a full-scale war?

WION Web Team
Beijing Published: Sep 19, 2021, 11:51 PM(IST)

Military vessels in South China Sea (representative image). Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

South China Sea has become a bone of contention. Several countries are making concerted efforts to push back China after it militarised some artificially constructed islands to assert its claim over the waterway. Quad or Aukus have come to the existence due to this conflict. The US and other countries have been performing ‘freedom of navigation’ to demonstrate the right to sail through what is considered to be international waters. The issue may escalate to a full-scale war anytime

For several years, South China Sea seems to have become a bone of contention. After China militarised some artificially constructed islands in the area to assert its claim over the waterway, several countries of the world seem to have been making concerted efforts to push back the Chinese.  

Be it the formation of the Quad or Aukus, the focus of the major powers in the region has been to keep a tab over the increasingly aggressive China.   

Calling it ‘freedom of navigation’, the US, the UK and other countries have been sending their warships to the region as a show of power but with little or no effect on the adversary China. They regularly pass through the area to demonstrate the right to sail through what is considered to be international waters. It seems to have been only making the Beijing more aggressive.  

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The China has been militarising the region by allegedly deploying anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jamming equipment on the disputed artificial islands in the South China Sea.   

It has also constructed airstrips and harbours, capable of housing military aircraft and warships. The stationing of missiles has effectively put all of the South China Sea within range of the military.  

The Chinese have also been carrying out military drills in the region. They have been making all attempts to protect its occupation of these islands. For this, it has been sending its vessels to the area in large number to either terrorise other navies or sink the fishing vessels to discourage people from venturing into the area.  

The China’s actions in the busy shipping lane, which is contested by several countries, has raised many eyebrows.  

China has wrangled with ASEAN countries, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei over the resource-rich South China Sea in a bitter territorial spat that has flared on and off for decades.   

China and Taiwan claim most of the sea, through which around $5 trillion in maritime trade passes every year, while the other countries also have competing claims.   

Also Read: China lashes out, deploys fighter jets after US warship sails past Mischief Reef in South China Sea

The Chinese have an upper hand in the area as the other claimants, such as Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, are not as powerful as China, and they also have a crucial economic relationship with the Beijing, which they can’t afford to jeaopardise.   

These factors have been working in the favour of the Chinese. But this has also been giving sleepless nights to several in the other parts of the world.  

It has also forced the UK to shift its foreign policy and concentrate on Indo-Pacific. India has also been doing the same.  

The current situation is such that one small clash can lead to a full-scale war anytime as none of the parties to the dispute seem to be in a mood to deescalate easily. Only time will tell about what will happen in future. 

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