China’s Maritime Ambition, Security Dilemma and Lack of Multilateral Framework

Published date01 August 2021
Date01 August 2021
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
China’s Maritime
Ambition, Security
Dilemma and Lack
of Multilateral
Ji-Yong Lee1
The security environment of the South China Sea has been disrupted as China
strengthens its efforts at maritime ambition. The recent security situation in the
Asia-Pacific, particularly the South China Sea, is characterised by arms building
and balancing against China. It raises the possibility of conflict. For securing
stability and peace, it is time to bring multilateralism back in, since a multilateral
security framework contributes to taking the edge off power politics. However,
there is no reliable multilateral framework to deal with the declining maritime
security environment. This article highlights the lack of a multilateral framework
and suggests an eclectic approach to multilateralism for securing the Asia-Pacific
maritime order.
China’s maritime strategy, maritime security, South China Sea, multilateral
framework, eclectic approach
The security environment in the Asian oceans is marked by increasing tension and
a sense of crisis. The South China Sea is at the centre of current maritime security
concerns. China has been asserting its maritime rights within the so-called the
nine-dash line in the South China Sea. China has rejected the decision and has
continued to build seven man-made islands in the Spratly Islands even after the
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
8(2) 195–217, 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970211017729
1 Department of Chinese Studies, School of International Studies, Keimyung University, Dalseo-Gu,
Daegu, Republic of Korea.
Corresponding author:
Ji-Yong Lee, Department of Chinese Studies, School of International Studies, Keimyung University,
Smith Hall 424,1095 Dalgubeol-daero, Dalseo-Gu, Daegu 42601, Republic of Korea.
196 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 8(2)
Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) concluded that China had breached its
obligations under the Convention on the international regulations for maritime
safety. Furthermore, China actively militarised the South China Sea, openly
showing its ambition to claim international water as its own. It has not only been
building those islands in the Spratly group, but it is also accelerating militarisation
of the disputed islands. This includes fortifying the islands, installing anti-ship
cruise missiles as well as surface-to-air missile systems, and stationing long-range
H-6K bombers on its outposts in the South China Sea.
In response to the criticisms, of course, China contends that it is a defensive
measure to secure its territorial sovereignty over the islands. Yet, China’s claims
and island militarisation have incensed China’s neighbours to the point of making
the South China Sea the main theatre for competitive militarisation. First, it has
ignited USA’s actions against China, which are associated with Asian countries’
balancing against China. Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore have sought security
cooperation with the USA. In addition, it has moved the USA, Japan, Australia,
and India to recast the previously defunct Quad alignment. They have joined in
conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China
Sea, since the USA began doing so in 2015. The Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy
(PLAN) has strongly reacted against FONOPs. Consequently, the South China
Sea may become a flashpoint triggering a major conflict between China and the
USA and its allies.
In addition, the concerns about maritime security have been extended to the
Indian Ocean as China has made an ambitious foray into that region as well. On 1
June 2019, The United States Department of Defense released its Indo-Pacific
Strategy Report (IPSR) (The Department of Defense, 2019b, pp. 17–20). It is
particularly significant that the report boldly points to China as the principal threat
to the rule-based maritime order in the Asia-Pacific region. In this situation,
tensions are going to fester, and the liberal maritime order will be threatened if the
regional countries fail to agree upon a set of conflict management mechanisms
(Storey, 2019, p. 359).
On that note, this article aims to seek a way to moderate the rising tensions and
to prevent a conflict from developing over rights to what long have been considered
international waters. The article posits that maritime security from the Pacific to
the Indian Ocean continues to be disrupted by China’s maritime policy. It first
reviews the literature to inquire into our understandings of the problem and to
search for feasible solutions. The article then investigates China’s strategy and the
responses to it from other countries. It contends that there is a lack of multilateral
mechanisms to resolve conflicting interests between China and others. Finally, the
article suggests an eclectic approach to multilateralism, a differentiated multilateral
framework, and organising principles for securing the Asia-Pacific maritime order.
Reviews on Maritime Security in the South China Sea
China’s maritime expansionism has aroused a lot of analyses and debates on the
Asian maritime security order, especially focusing on the South China Sea. Key

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT