Sunday, June 7, 2020 11:14:00 AM
Saleem Samad :
Amidst coronavirus global pandemic, once China has been able to contain the deadly outbreak, the country has begun its ambition to dominate the region.
The recent rogue wave of China demonstrates that their military weight to its expansionist policy, which has irked both the Philippines and Vietnam over the dominance of the South China Sea.
It is well understood that food shortages caused by the Covid-19 outbreak will increase the risk of confrontation as countries move to deliberately protect domestic supplies.
The disputed territorial waters is a potential natural resource and a huge potentiality of fishing and the Philippines and Vietnam are determined to resist ban, which remains in force since 1999.
As one prominent critic of China explains that "A storyline has developed over the last few weeks that China is taking advantage of global distraction during the pandemic to increase its assertiveness in the South China Sea.
China claims 80 percent of the South China Sea, which is disputed by neighbouring countries, including Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and most importantly Vietnam, which was once considered a close ally of mainland China.
Tension is boiling in the South China Sea after China announced an annual summer ban on fishing to conserve stocks in the disputed waters, which drew flak from rivals.
China has prohibited deep-sea fishing in the disputed territorial waters from 1 May till 16 August - including areas near the Scarborough Shoal, the Paracel Islands, and the Gulf of Tonkin.
The disputed territorial waters provide food and jobs for millions of peoples in neighbouring countries but overfishing and climate change threaten their sustainability.
The two countries which also have a legitimate claim over the waters challenged Communist China's fishing ban and China's coastguard has reiterated to take the "strictest measures" to stop any "illegal fishing activities".
Philippines and Vietnam are in loggerhead with China over the South China Sea after fishing communities have urged their governments to take a firm stance.
Hanoi has rejected the "unilateral decision" and asked China not to further complicate the situation in the South China Sea, said in an official statement.
Moreover, the China-Vietnam dispute over the Paracels Islands and the maritime zones is quite distinct from its disputes over the maritime space and the resources.
Rodrigo Duterte's government in Manila assured the local fishery organisations that Philippine will not give in to "China's bullying".
The delays in South China Sea parleys expose China's complex relationship with neighbours during the pandemic, which has worried the regional think tanks.
On the sidelines, the United States alleged that "Beijing has moved to take advantage of the distraction [of the pandemic], from China's new unilateral announcement of administrative districts over disputed islands and maritime areas in the South China Sea.
The S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore believes that governments in the region are likely to step up their support for local fishing communities and fishery protection tasks.
The competition for fishing rights is one of the main motivations for the dispute over the waters, and observers warned that the Covid-19 pandemic could prompt a food crisis that would heighten the risk of conflict in the region.
(Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; he could also be reached at email@example.com)
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