Chinese Expansion During the Times of Pandemic | 24th April

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IASbhai Editorial Hunt

Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.– Dalai Lama

Dear Aspirants
IASbhai Editorial Hunt is an initiative to dilute major Editorials of leading Newspapers in India which are most relevant to UPSC preparation –‘THE HINDU, LIVEMINT , INDIAN EXPRESS’ and help millions of readers who find difficulty in answer writing and making notes everyday. Here we choose two editorials on daily basis and analyse them with respect to UPSC MAINS 2020.

EDITORIAL 51:“Fishing in troubled waters during a pandemic

       SOURCES:   THE HINDU EDITORIAL/EDITORIALS FOR UPSC CSE MAINS 2020

Harsh V. Pant

Premesha Saha

 

Harsh V. Pant is Director, Studies, at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, and Professor of International Relations, King’s College London;

Premesha Saha is an Associate Fellow with the ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme

 

      HEADLINES:

Fishing in troubled waters during a pandemic

      CENTRAL THEME:

As China seeks to restore its credibility, creating tensions in the South China Sea should be the least of its priorities

SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 2:3:International Relations : Maritime Security

      MAINS QUESTION:

Regional Security Expansion during the times of pandemic is being stressed by PRC. Do you think its a opportunity or boon to other states in ASEAN-(GS -2)

      LEARNING: 

Why China conducted military operations during the spread of COVID-19 pandemics ?

Why is South China sea so important to Chinese strategic interests?

Do you think such moves can create indefinite stress on ASEAN countries to protect the boundaries with more surveillance ?

      INTRODUCTION: 

Even as several countries struggle to cope with the challenges posed by COVID-19, Beijing’s military moves in the contested South China Sea continue to take place unabated.

China has conducted military drills and deployed large-scale military assets to the maritime area, while officially celebrating strides made in exploiting disputed energy resources in the sea.

      BODY: 

STRATEGY FOR EXPANSION

EXAMPLES OF ENCROACHMENTS:

  • VIETNAM : The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported early this month that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel “rammed and sunk” a Vietnamese fishing boat carrying eight Vietnamese fishermen in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
  • It maintained that this violates “Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, causes property losses and endangers the lives, safety and legitimate interests of the Vietnamese fishermen”.
  • INDONESIA: There have been incidents involving Chinese fishing vessels and the Chinese Coast Guard with Indonesian fishing vessels in waters around the Natuna Sea as well.
  • PHILIPPINES:Besides these incidents, there were satellite images showing a Chinese military plane landing on Kagitingan Reef in the West Philippine Sea in late March.
  • There are also reports that China recently opened a research station on Kagitingan and Zamora Reef, also in the West Philippine Sea, to gather data on the ecology, geology, and environment in the Spratlys.

STRATEGIST VISION OF CHINA:

  • It seems as though the COVID-19 outbreak in China did little to diminish the country’s strategy of regional expansion.
  • Routine operations of transport aircraft in the South China Sea indicate that the Chinese military is hardly affected by the country’s health crisis.
Beijing’s expanding claims to the South China Sea through which one-third of the world’s maritime trade flows.
  • These encroachments and advances by China in the South China Sea not only dampen China’s image globally, and affect its relations with its Southeast Asian neighbours, but also raise questions on why it continues its assertiveness in the disputed waters when most of the claimant states are having to contend with the challenges posed by COVID-19.
Philippines issued a statement that said, “Such incidents undermine relations between Southeast Asian nations and Beijing.”

U.S. State Department also published a statement, “We call on the PRC to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic, and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea.”

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

  • While a military policy of expansion in the neighbourhood can be one way of shoring up the credibility of the Chinese Communist Party, which has been bruised by its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is also a response to what many in the party would view as a rare window of opportunity as the U.S. is grappling with the pandemic.

GLOBAL TIES AND PROSPECTUS:

  • American ties with Vietnam have been on an upward trajectory in recent times.
  • Vietnam has been an ardent supporter of the U.S.’s freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) carried out in the South China Sea.
  • China has always taken a strong stand against these FONOPS of the U.S. It has flexed its muscles to match up to these operations.
  • In that direction, China also recently conducted anti-submarine drills in the disputed areas soon after the Pentagon deployed the U.S.-guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell in a FONOP in the South China Sea before the pandemic hit the U.S. mainland with full force.
At present, Vietnam is the chair of the ASEAN and will be presiding over the discussions on the Code of Conduct which has been a work in progress for long.
  • Vietnam has always been in favour of non-claimant countries or external players having an active voice and calling out China for its growing assertiveness in these contested waters.

      IASbhai Windup: 

QUEST FOR CREDIBILITY: 

  • It underlined that Chinese actions “also run counter to agreements reached by Hanoi and Beijing’s leaders and the proposed Code of Conduct that would govern all interested parties in the South China Sea dispute.”
  • Unlike the Philippines, which has changed its stance quite often with respect to Chinese activities in the South China Sea, and Indonesia, which recognised the Chinese threat in the Natuna Sea rather late, Vietnam has held a firm stand against the China.
  • Even with regard to its COVID-19 response, Vietnam was the first country in the ASEAN to suspend all flights to and from China as early as February.
  • Hence, China has always kept a watch on Vietnamese manoeuvres in the South China Sea dispute.
  • As China seeks to restore its global credibility, creating tensions in the South China Sea should be the least of its priorities.
  • But that’s a hope that has been belied many a times in the past and it’s unlikely that the Chinese Communist Party would let go of its regional security agenda of expansion.

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