UN Security Council Debates Response to South China Sea Crisis

By Jason Meizels

NEW YORK (UN Press Corps) - On Thursday evening, the Security Council discussed the issue of conflict in the South China Sea, a region that represents one-third of global maritime traffic and $5 trillion in annual trade according to VOA News. Due to its vast wealth of resources, especially oil deposits, the region is highly contested and thus a matter of crucial significance to an international peacekeeping organization.

Currently, there are six claimant nations: China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. International law specifies that these nations each have claim to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which spans 200 nautical miles from the coast of each state’s territory and protects rights for marine resources and energy production and exploration. The main point of contention and cause of instability is China’s assertion that they have a historical right to the vast majority of the region. China has recently built numerous defense systems and man-made islands for the purpose of self protection as well as “safe navigation and disaster relief,”  but other nations feel increasing pressure from what they see as a growing threat of militarization.

The Council faced a developing crisis as they learned of a potential human rights violation by China. Environmentalists from the U.S. were filming on a Chinese island to expose the ecological impact of their developments and were imprisoned by China. A statement was later released by the Chinese government claiming that the individuals had admitted to being spies attempting to undermine China’s interests. The U.S. claimed China is violating the fundamental human rights of these individuals, while China maintained that the self proclaimed environmentalists were lawfully imprisoned, an action justified by their right as a sovereign state to self protection.

The UK and France both believe China, especially in light of this murky humanitarian crisis, represents a “clear and present threat to the stability of the region and the international community,” contenting that holding China accountable should be the Security Council’s “first priority,” a position with which the Dominican Republic agrees. Russia, despite taking part in a few joint ventures with Vietnam, proposes unilateral action in lieu of economic competition. The delegate suggests the establishment of “direct military hotlines” in the vein of those which already exist between China and Japan.

The delegate from Belgium notes that the UN has “bigger fish to fry” than this particular event sparking conflict between the U.S. and China. All delegates agree that the role of the UN in regional conflicts should be mediatory in nature, simply providing a forum for debate and for other nations to make their interests and intentions known.

It remains unclear what path the Security Council will take, but de-escalation seems to be essential to prevent these complex disputes from disastrously disrupting economic, political, and peacekeeping structures on a global scale.