QUESTION: Write a brief note on SCS dispute and its strategic importance for India.



  • South China Sea Dispute


  • The Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea(SCS) is a cause of worry not only for the littoral countries, but also for others.


  • United Nation Convention on the Laws of the Sea defines the rights, responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, environment, and the management of marine natural resources.


  • China laid claim to the South China Sea (SCS) back in 1947. It demarcated its claims with a U-shaped line made up of eleven dashes on a map, covering most of the area. Later, the Communist Party, which took over in 1949, removed the Gulf of Tonkin portion in 1953, by erasing two of the dashes from the original eleven dashes to make it a nine-dash line.
  • The ‘nine-dash line’ stretches hundreds of kilometres south and east of its southerly Hainan Island, covering the strategic Paracel and Spratly island China asserts its claims over the Paracel and Spratly island groups by citing 2,000 years of history when these two island chains were regarded as its integral parts.
  • This historical claim by China has been rejected by Vietnam- instead, Vietnam justifies its own claims, on the basis of written records, which, in its view, establishes its administration over the area since the 17th century.
  • The dispute around the South China sea primarily engages the following countries directly- China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. The extra-regional countries who are also affected by the dispute, and who have legitimate interests in the region, include the United States, Japan, India, and Australia.
  • The maritime interests of these countries are heavily invested in the Sea Lanes of Communication in the SCS. It is thus, this issue holds important sway in that of a secure and peaceful Asia.


  • Chinese military postures: Is a cause for concern ever since they unilaterally put forward the Nine-Dash Line in 2009 to declare the South China Sea as territorial waters.
  • Their territorial claim is disputed, as it is neither treaty-based nor legally sound.
  • To test the legality of China’s ‘nine-dash line’ regarding the disputed Spratlys, Philippines invoked the dispute settlement mechanism of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 2013.
  • In response, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague decreed in 2016 judgment that the line had “no legal basis.”
  • These portures act in ways that are neither benign nor helpful for long-term peace and stability.

For example,

  • Chinese naval forces have rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat, buzzed a Philippines naval vessel and harassed a Malaysian oil drilling operation, all within their respective EEZs recently.
    • Since 2015, they have built a runway and underground storage facilities on the Subi Reef and Thitu Island as well as radar sites and missile shelters on Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef.
    • They conducted ballistic missile tests in the South China Sea in June 2019 and continue to enhance naval patrols to enforce area denial for others.


  • Transformation in the US-China relationship: The two most consequential powers of the world, the United States, which is known as the “resident power”, and China, which is “the reality on the doorstep”, are engaged in a fundamental transformation of their relationship.
  • Decline in US Hegemony: The Indo-Pacific has prospered under American hegemony for the previous 40 years.
  • This is not just because of their huge investments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) alone, but also because of the security blanket that it provides.
  • The American military presence has afforded countries the opportunity to pursue economic prosperity without substantial increases in their own defence expenditures.


  • Inclination towards US or China: The regional prosperity of the littoral countries has come at a mounting cost in geo-strategic terms. The South China Sea is effectively militarised and in the post-COVID age, enjoying the best of both worlds may no longer be an option.
  • Options with ASEAN: Nobody should expect that ASEAN will suddenly reverse course when faced with possibly heightened Sino-US competition.
  • China is a major power that will continue to receive the respect of ASEAN and many others in the Indo-Pacific, especially in a post-COVID world where they are struggling to revive their economies.
  • ASEAN overtook the European Union to become China’s largest trading partner in the first quarter of 2020, and China is the third-largest investor ($150 billion) in ASEAN.
  • The South East Asians are skilled to accommodate competing hegemons while advancing their interests.
  • A robust US military presence: A stronger validation by the littoral states of the South China Sea helps the US Administration in justifying their presence to the American tax-payer.
  • Role of others in the region: To collectively encourage an increasingly powerful China to pursue strategic interests in a legitimate way, and on the basis of respect for international law, in the South China Sea.


The situation in the South China Sea will be critical for India’s security and well-being as –

  • A global common: The South China Sea is not China’s sea but a global common.
  • Important for communication: It has been an important sea-lane of communication since the very beginning, and passage has been unimpeded over the centuries.
  • Historical importance: Indians have sailed these waters for well over 1,500 years – there is ample historical and archaeological proof of a continuous Indian trading presence from Kedah in Malaysia to Quanzhou in China.
  • Trade, investment, diaspora: Nearly $200 billion of India’s trade passes through the South China Sea and thousands of Indian citizens study, work and invest in ASEAN, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.
  • Stakes in the peace and security of this region: It follows that India has a stake in the SCS, just as China has in the Indian Ocean.
  • Extended neighbour: From India’s perspective, foreign and security policy in its larger neighbourhood covers the entire expanse of the Asia-Pacific and extends to the Persian Gulf and West Asia.
  • India, a fulcrum of the region: Between the Suez and Shanghai, between West and East Asia, and between the Mediterranean and the SCS.


  • Responsive to ASEAN’s expectations: While strategic partnerships and high-level engagements are important, ASEAN expects long-lasting commitments from India in the future.
  • Importance of regional groupings: A restructuring of global trade is unlikely to happen any time soon in the post-COVID context and regional arrangements will become even more important for economic recovery and rejuvenation.
  • Part of global supply chains: The clarion call of “Think Global Act Local” requires India to be a part of the global supply chains in the world’s leading growth region for the next half-century.
  • Pursue its defence diplomacy outreach: In the Indo-Pacific region – increase military training and conduct exercises and exchanges at a higher level of complexity, extend Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief activities, share patrolling of the Malacca Strait with the littoral countries, etc.
  • Extending Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships: India has concluded these partnerships with Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the U.S. and Vietnam could be extended to Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore.
  • Enhance military capacity: India must also buttress the military capacity of the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command. These have immense geo-strategic value, as they overlook Asia’s maritime strategic lifeline and the world’s most important global sea lane.


  • South China Sea is an arm of western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia.
  • It is south of China, east & south of Vietnam, west of the Philippines and north of the island of Borneo.
  • Bordering states & territories (clockwise from north): the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
  • It is connected by Taiwan Strait with the East China Sea and by Luzon Strait with the Philippine Sea.
  • It contains numerous shoals, reefs, atolls and islands. The Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal are the most important.


  • Building military capacity – We must improve the military capacity of the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command as it overlooks Asia’s maritime strategic lifeline and the world’s most important global sea lane.
    • Regional diplomatic outreach: Increasing military training and conducting exercises and exchanges at a higher level of complexity and Extending Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief activities.
    • Sharing patrolling responsibilities of the Malacca Strait with the littoral countries
    • The Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships that India has concluded with Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the U.S. and Vietnam could be extended to Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.


GS-2 Mains

QUESTION: Examine India’s nuclear policy with respect to China and major issues and challenges before India in this contemporary world.



  • India and China’s nuclear arsenal


  • The growing tensions along LAC (Line of Actual Control) calls for New Delhi to keep an eye on Chinese Nuclear arsenal.
  • The dispute along the border escalated amidst the lockdown when China tried to occupy Indian regions along LAC especially in Ladakh.


  • The country is expanding its nuclear arsenal primarily to create deterrence on smaller states and to bring itself in conformity with the U.S and Russia.
  • The country is arming its missiles with Multiple Independently Targetable Re- entry Vehicles (MIRVs) capabilities to neutralise America’s missile shield
  • A multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) is a ballistic missile payload containing several warheads, each capable of hitting one of a group of targets. By contrast a unitary warhead is a single warhead on a single missile.
  • China’s DF-31As, which are road mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), are equipped with MIRVs and potent penetration aids.
  • The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) has also deployed a range of Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs) and Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs).
  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said that China’s nuclear arsenal increased to 320 warheads in 2020, up by 30 in comparison to 2019.


  • It has very less nuclear capabilities in comparison to China.
  • Greater arsenal can be used by China for enhancing its assertiveness across the border, thereby diminishing the probability of retreat by chinese forces.
  • It could become a staging ground for further PLA ingress triggering hostilities that widen to the Karakoram and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Not only on the border but Chinese DF-26 IRBMs with a range of 4,000 kilometres can potentially strike targets across most of India. 
  • Nuclear advantage can also be used to pressurise India for reversing the economic restrictions placed on chinese goods.
  • Pakistan is also a nuclear state and a good friend China in the current scenario.

  Strategic Forces Command (SFC) of India :

  • It is responsible for the management and administration of the country’s tactical and strategic nuclear weapons stockpile.
  • It is also called Strategic Nuclear Command and forms part of India’s Nuclear Command Authority (NCA).
  • It operationalizes the directives of the NCA under the leadership of a Commander-in-Chief who is a three-star rank officer.
  • It will have the sole responsibility of initiating the process of delivering nuclear weapons and warheads, after acquiring explicit approval from the NCA.
  • The SFC manages and administers all strategic forces by exercising complete command and control over nuclear assets, and producing all contingency plans as needed to fulfill the required tasks.


  • It is the authority responsible for command, control and operational decisions regarding India’s nuclear weapons programme.
  • On 4 January 2003, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) constituted the Political Council and the Executive Council of the NCA.
  • The Executive Council gives its opinion to the Political Council, which authorises a nuclear attack when deemed necessary.
  • While the Executive Council is chaired by the National Security Advisor (NSA), the Political Council is chaired by the Prime Minister.
  • This mechanism was implemented to ensure that Indian nukes remain firmly in civilian control and that there exists a sophisticated Command and Control (C2) mechanism to prevent their accidental or unauthorised use.


  • It states how a nuclear state will use its nuclear weapons against other states.

 Features –

  • Maintaining a credible minimum deterrence of nuclear arsenal
  • “No First Use” of Nuclear weapons – They can be used only in retaliation against a Nuclear attack.
  • Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be “massive” and designed to inflict “unacceptable damage”.
  • Nuclear retaliatory attacks to be authorized only by civilian political leadership through the Nuclear Command Authority.
  • Non use of nuclear weapons against non nuclear weapon states.
  • India can retaliate with nuclear weapons in the event of a major attack against it with biological or chemical weapons
  • Continuance of strict controls on export of nuclear and missile related materials and technologies.
  • Continued moratorium on testing
  • Continued commitment to Nuclear Disarmament through global, verifiable and non discriminatory disarmament.


  • The conventional escalation between Chinese and Indian forces along the LAC must factor in the role of nuclear weapons and their impact on military operations.
  • India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) needs to be on a heightened state of alert to ward off Chinese nuclear threats and brinkmanship
  • New Delhi must reassess its nuclear doctrine and strengthen efforts to attain robust triadic capability for deterrence.
  • As security is a dynamic concept and all doctrines needs periodic reviews. Same is the case with India.
  • If Indian policymakers feel a need to review the nation’s nuclear doctrine, they should be cognizant of the costs involved in doing so.


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