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South China Sea: Implications of China’s Seamless 9-Dash Line; By Carlyle A. Thayer

Image Courtesy: The Economist

Article No. 033/2018

Courtesy: Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, May 4, 2018

Q1. In the context where China has been seeking to turn its nine-dashed line in the South China Sea to a seamless line, what did those activities demonstrate?

ANSWER: At the moment the impetus to turn the nine-dash line into a continuous line with precise coordinates is the initiative of a group of Chinese scientists and not the central government.

In reality China is enforcing its clams to sovereignty over all the features (rocks) and adjacent waters within the nine-dash line. It stations Coast Guard vessels throughout the area to enforce Chinese jurisdiction. China’s military regularly challenges foreign military flights and naval ship passages through the waters that it claims. And with reports  that  China  has  deployed  mobile  electronic  jamming  equipment, anti-ship cruise missiles and surface to air missiles, China has developed the capacity not only to identify the movement of military ships and aircraft in the region, but the ability to shoot down aircraft and destroy surface targets should it choose to do so. The so-called new 1951 map is mere window dressing for China’s current activities.

Q2.  What do you think Vietnam should do next to protect its rights in the sea area?

ANSWER: Vietnam can only continue to do what it has been doing already. It must continue to modernise its military and create a modest deterrent force for the South China Sea. Vietnam must also continue to encourage and support the presence of naval ships and aircraft from the major maritime powers including the United States, Japan, India, France, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Vietnam needs to adopt a tough position within ASEAN as its ten members negotiate a Code of Conduct with China. Since these negotiations are conducted on the basis of consensus Vietnam should not let pressure from other ASEAN members sway it from standing up for its rights or entitlements under international law.

But there are real limits on how Vietnam can bring its influence to bear. Last year and this year it had to yield to Chinese pressure and terminate oil exploration in the waters near Vanguard reef (Tu Chinh).

[Carlyle A. Thayer is an Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. The views expressed are his own. All his background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. The views expressed in this article are of the author.]

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