MAST comments on Chinas historical hold over South China Sea

Anthony Rix, Rear Admiral and Business Development and Board advisor at MAST, comments on China's historical hold over South China Sea rejected by international court today:

"While it is understandable that the international community is nervous that today's ruling could result in an increase in aggressive behaviour by navies and coastguards in the South China Sea, it is quite possible that through enhanced naval and coastguard presence in the area, the area could, in time, become safer for merchant shipping.

"The requirement for good navies and coastguards in the region has long been understood; countries like Indonesia now place a much higher priority on maritime affairs. This ruling does not provide any reason to change this approach and might actually encourage faster naval development.

"While China's historic claims to the South China Sea (SCS) have been undermined, any retreat by China will further weaken the legitimacy of its claims. The Philippines will probably attempt to capitalise on the perception of a major legal victory, but as there is no international mechanism for enforcement and China massively out classes the Philippines military, force majeure rests with China.

"For now the tribunal will not make immediate decisions over sovereignty and the demarcation of maritime zones and borders. This leaves the US and other regional powers watching China's next move closely and assessing how they might respond should China continue to usurp territory.

"China is likely to continue to develop and build on the various reefs and islands, strengthening its hold on its claimed Exclusive Economic Zones. In order to agree median lines, more negotiation will be needed.

"China has the largest naval building programme of any country in the world and is fast growing its blue water fleet. Our Risk Map found that Asia was the most active region for maritime crime in 2015. Of the 386 maritime crime incidents reported last year, 66% of all pirate activity took place in Asia (255 incidents) compared with 16% around the Horn of Africa and 17% on the West African Coast.

"The current situation in the SCS adds to existing security worries in this area. Global trade is critically reliant on sea lanes and all the evidence points to a continued sense of uncertainty in the SCS. Security and prosperity are inextricably linked and so the threat of attacks in these oceans and beyond cannot be overlooked."