The South China Sea (SCS) is waters area extending from the Southwest to the Northeast, bordering on the south by 3 degrees south between Sumatra Island and Kalimantan Island (Karimata Strait) and the North is bounded by the Taiwan Strait from the north end to the directions of Fukein beach, China. The area of SCS itself is estimated to reach 4 million square kilometers with four sub large islands namely Paracel, Spratly, Pratas and Macclesfield (Asnani Usman and Rizal Sukma, 1997). SCS which is estimated to have great potential in marine biota, tourism, fishery, oil, natural gas and even navigation makes many countries try hard to get legality over SCS.
The great potentials in SCS make countries around SCS to claim over the owner of SCS. In this context, there are six countries consist of four ASEAN countries and two countries outside ASEAN. The four ASEAN countries are Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei Darussalam. While the two countries outside ASEAN are China and Taiwan. The six countries declared as the legal owner of SCS with various reasons. Malaysia claimed of the ownership of SCS because of the closeness factor (proximity) with SCS, while Philippines claimed to have the rights over SCS because of the discovery and occupation. Besides, the Philippines also based its ownership of SCS because of the territory proximity factor. Vietnam feels to own SCS based on the historical factor. While Brunei feels the ownership of SCS because it based on the continent base and Exclusive Economic Zone.
Based on the above map it can be illustrated that China through its policies has unilaterally declared a nine-dash line which in the above map is marked with a dashed red line of nine, while Vietnam’s claim is marked with a blue line, Malaysia is marked by a light blue stripe and Philippines with brown color. While Brunei and Taiwan also claim that in the nine-dash line, both countries also have rights. Globally, the real territory that China claimed is actually also an area that is also claimed by five other countries. In the context of this sovereignty disputes which is very aggressive in opposing China’s nine-dash line is the Philippines and Vietnam. The nine-dash line concept was first introduced in 1914 and exploited in 1947 by the Chinese national government.
In order to resolve the SCS issue, the relevant parties have already made an agreement on the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Cambodia. The purpose of this DOC are three namely to promote confidence-building measures, to foster cooperation in maritime affairs and to prepare a formal and binding code of conduct. Based on the three objectives of the DOC in particular the third objective is that the purpose of the DOC is to formulate a formal and binding COC. So starting from this point can be expected COC can be a document that can provide the implementation scheme, monitoring and sanctions. The process of making a COC document can be said to have many obstacles. One of the obstacles that have been faced is related to the drafting of COC which is done in the scope of ASEAN countries without involving China. Therefore it made China uncomfortable. In the context of drafting COC, it clearly possible there will be a difficult negotiation between the conflicted parties and will take a long time.(https://kyotoreview.org/bahasa-indonesia/mengelola-isu-keamanan-di-laut-cina-selatan-dari-doc-ke-coc/).
The mechanism related to the process of COC has been delivered by China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi in 2013. In essence Wang Yi asked that the process of COC must use negotiation and respect toward each country became the main thing. Then in the same year, the process of COC was started in Suzhou, China. The stage process of COC will clearly take energy and a long time because of the complexity problem of SCS and the interest of various actors playing in SCS. In the middle process of COC agreement, Indonesia as an unrelated country in the conflict of SCS, at least can actively help to solve the conflict of SCS. This is in line with Indonesia’s “free and active” foreign policy. The meaning of “free” means Indonesia must act independently in the international arena, while “active” means Indonesia’s need to participate in creating world peace.( https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/04/19/free-and-active-foreign-policy-a-globalizing-world.html).
As the implementation of the foreign policy, the Indonesian government can initiate the growth of more intense cooperation between the dispute parties. Actually, the cooperation between the dispute countries has been done after the signing of DOC in 2002. For example between 2005 until 2008, there has been cooperation in the seismic research between China, Vietnam and the Philippines. However, generally the cooperations that have been done can be said that many of them are not running. Therefore, Indonesia can facilitate a meeting involving the related parties. In the context of this cooperation there should be principles that must be obeyed by all the dispute parties so that the future cooperation can work well. These principles include
- The oceans should be used for peaceful purposes under UNCLOS, UN Charter and international law,
- Cooperation should start from a non-sensitive issue such as marine environmental protection,
- Profits must be shared equally to the parties related to SCS,
- Exploitations and living exploration and non-living resources cannot be charged to one country, but become a shared responsibility.
Some cooperation aspects that might be done are as follows:
- Joint development for oil and gas
- Joint management and conservation of fisheries
- Cooperation in navigational safety and search and rescue at sea
- Cooperation in combating transnational maritime crime
- Cooperation in marine scientific research and
- Marine environmental protection (Wu Shicun, 2013).
The cooperation in those areas can be done either bilateral or multilateral. For that, Indonesia is expected to encourage the realization of such cooperation to reduce tensions in SCS that currently there is a tendency to increase significantly.
This article was written by Fatkurrohman, researcher at the Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).