The PLA South Sea Fleet on patrol near the Spratly Islands, Jan. 25. (Photo/Xinhua)
The territorial dispute over the South China Sea has heated up again since late January, when Japanese media outlets raised questions about China's nine-dash demarcation line and the possibility of Beijing establishing an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the area like the one announced in November over the East China Sea.
Tensions rose when United States assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel suggested that China should clarify its claims in the region, which he said were not in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), concluded in 1982.
This is an apparent shift from Washington's previous stance of seeking cooperation with Beijing to address the South China Seas dispute advocated by then US defense secretary Leon Panetta, then commander of the US Pacific Fleet Admiral Cecil D Haney and chairman of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services Carl Levin in April 2012, when tensions between China and the Philippines arose over their competing claim to Scarborough Shoal.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei responded to Russel's remarks saying the country's claims in the South China Sea are rooted in history and are protected by international law.
China's ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai also criticized Washington for leveling accusations against Beijing, despite the US claim that it holds no position on the maritime disputes between six parties in the region.
The U-shaped nine-dash line was originally an 11-dash line, first asserted by the Nationalist government of the Republic of China in 1947. After its subsequent adoption by the People's Republic of China in 1949, two of the dashes were removed by Zhou Enlai, the premier.
Malaysia, which claims three of the Spratly Islands, which are also claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines made no territorial claims in the region prior to a presidential decree published in 1979, and the islands were not included in past treaties involving the Philippines' territory.
Washington's toughening stance towards Beijing might be aimed at easing pressure from its allies in East Asia, but US officials' recent remarks have undermined trust between the United States and China and indicated the country's intentions to contain the rising world power.
An article by Jeffrey Bader, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggests that the US consult with Taiwan on issues related to sovereignty in the South China Sea. Although Bader is in no way representative of official US policy, his report does reflect the views of some who think that the US should try to impede China by lobbying for Taiwan.
Taiwan is not a signatory to UNCLOS despite controlling a number of important islands in the South China Sea, including Taiping — the largest of the Spratlys — and the Pratas islands, and is certainly not required to take a stance on the nine-dash line, which is a joint asset across the Taiwan Strait. Taipei should hold talks with Beijing and build a consensus so that the two sides can defend the territory together.
Hong Lei 洪磊
Cui Tiankai 崔天凱
Zhou Enlai 周恩來