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  • Writer's pictureJai Kasera

Peace, Sovereignty, and Freedom: The 9-Dash Line Takes away all

Photo/The Economist

Established in the 1940s, China’s “9-dash line” represents its self-proclaimed control of areas of the South China Sea. China believes that it holds historical claims over territories inside the 9-dash line such as the Spratly, Paracel, Zhongsha, and Pratas Islands, as well over the natural resources and waters within the region. However, this has caused a number of disputes about the validity of the 9-dash line, as well as the methods through which China will try to enforce its claims. Various countries, including the US, and international bodies have denounced the 9-dash line, but China has refused to accept their concerns. Although doing so causes tensions between the US and China, the US should continue to oppose the 9-dash line in order to protect the property of nations, maintain peace within the South China Sea, and preserve an important transit route for the US navy and travel to East Asia.

China’s 9-dash line threatens the sovereignty and property of other nations, which is why the US must intervene in the South China Sea. For example, the 9-dash line intrudes into exclusive economic zones (EEZs) that Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei own. These EEZs, determined internationally by the United Nations itself, are areas where solely the states that own them possess the right to mine for natural resources, create artificial islands, and conduct other economic activities. China is not allowed to use these lands and waters in EEZs freely, yet its 9-dash line permits the nation to do so. Another way through which China has been endangering nations’ sovereignties is through claiming various island chains in the South China Sea. Although some of these islands are already claimed and occupied by other countries, China alleges over 80% of the South China Sea to be its property, interfering on other countries’ lands. For example, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam currently hold part of the Spratly Islands, though this island chain is within the bounds of the 9-dash line.

The US must also fight against the 9-dash line to protect countries from possible uses of force by China. On January 22, 2021, China passed new legislation called the China Coast Guard (CCG) Law that authorizes the CCG to fire on foreign ships and individuals who are “infringing” on China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea, as specified by the 9-dash line. This has caused massive concern, and countries such as the US have expressed their discontent with the new law, urging China to reconsider using force on foreign ships. Furthermore, China has been recorded to have installed militia throughout the South China Sea. For instance, China and the Philippines had a military standoff at the Spratly Islands, with over 200 vessels in total. This shows the reality of Chinese military force in the South China Sea and that they are willing to fight against other countries. The report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies described the Chinese actions as “surveilling and harassing foreign military activity to which Beijing objected.”

Finally, the South China Sea provides the US with a useful transit route to travel to and from East Asia, and the US must oppose the 9-dash line in order to maintain this maritime passage. First, this passage is crucial in commercial travel to Asia. The South China Sea serves as a transit route for more than 20% of all global trade. However, China has expressed ambiguous threats about the commerce passing through the South China Sea, as well as enforced a rule which coerces all ships passing through China’s jurisdiction of the South China Sea to be checked by Chinese militia and ensure that these ships do not linger around the seas. This will undoubtedly endanger the trillions of dollars in commerce being shipped through this passage. In addition to disrupting commercial travel, the 9-dash line prevents the US navy from using the South China Sea to gain presence in the Indo-Pacific area. The South China Sea allows the US navy to travel to its Asian allies and execute carrier operations. However, China has shown that it is unwilling to allow American naval ships to pass through the 9-dash line without confrontation; for example, when a US warship entered the Paracel Islands, China reported that it “drove away” this ship because it was within the boundary of its 9-dash line. These actions will limit the power that the US has in this area and instead give sole control of these waters to China.

The 9-dash line puts at risk the overall peace in the South China Sea, the sovereignty of nations, and the freedom of navigation, and because of this, the US must continue to fight against it. Furthermore, the UN has already addressed the 9-dash line to be unlawful, substantiating the necessity for the US to provide support in combating this illegal territorial claim.


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