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Model United Nations

Security Council Topic 2

Chinese Aggression in the South China Sea

This Security Council session is designed to address the current disputes about sovereignty and territorial waters within the South and East China Sea regions. Issues to be focused on include the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, as well as the dispute of territorial water expansion and military posturing in the South China Sea.

Relations between the People’s Republic of China and Japan have been strained as a result of a dispute between the two powers over an island grouping in the East China Sea. According to the BBC, at the heart of this dispute are 8 uninhabited islands and rocks; the Japanese refer to these as the Senkaku Islands while the Chinese refer to them as the Diaoyu Islands. The islands lie directly north-east of Taiwan. These islands are important to both countries for various reasons, including their proximity to important shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potential oil and natural gas reserves. They are also in a strategic position for military strength in the Asian-Pacific region. Both countries have what they believe are valid claims to the islands. Japan asserts that in the 19th century these islands were uninhabited and surveyed by the Japanese for 10 years prior to the erecting of sovereignty markers and the assimilation of the islands into Japanese territory. After World War II, Japan released claims to the islands, but in 1971 during the Okinawa reversion deal, the islands were returned to the Japanese by the United States. Japan claims that China raised no objection to the territorial claim to the islands until large oil reserves in the area were discovered in the 1970’s. China, however, claims that the islands had been part of their territory since ancient times, serving as important fishing grounds for the administrative province of Taiwan.

This issue was barely addressed until 2012 when conservative Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara said he would use public money to purchase the islands from their private Japanese owners. In response, the Japanese government purchased three of the islands to put a stop to the governor’s more provocative plan. However, this angered the Chinese, sparking public and diplomatic protests. In addition, Chinese government ships have gone into and out of the waters surrounding the islands and Beijing has issued an air defense identification zone over the islands.

In addition to the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, China has also become more aggressive in the South China Sea by claiming most of the resource rich waters as territorial waters. These claims were nullified by the arbitration court in The Hague. The United States has called on the People’s Republic of China to respect the decision of the Court. China has built infrastructure over 3200 acres of the South China Sea. As a response the United States and Australia participated in a freedom-of-navigation exercise to show that the waters not Chinese territory.

The People’s Republic of China started the process of expanding its influence and power in the early 1990’s after the United States left the Philippines, leaving a vacuum for the Chinese to fill. Using soft military power, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has been establishing a stronger presence in both the East and South China Seas, provoking the United States, Japan, and other neighboring states. Japan has called upon Beijing to respect the decision of the arbitration court in The Hague which was backed by the United Nations. Japan claims that these actions by the People’s Republic of China are aggressive in nature and pose an alarming threat. The People’s Republic of China maintains the opinion that they are within their rights to expand within what they consider their territorial waters. The goal of this committee is to find a peaceful resolution that provides a sustainable way to protect each party’s sovereignty, while preventing further disputes over the area.

Questions to Consider:

  • How is the international community affected by the actions of the People’s Republic of China?
  • In what way does the People’s Republic of China benefit from the actions that they are perpetuating?
  • Have other powers worsened the situation as it stands?
  • What is the environmental impact of the further expansion of territorial water claims by the People’s Republic of China?
  • Are these territorial claims legal?
  • How does this dispute affect international trade and security?
  • What are the motives of the states involved in the dispute?
  • Does Japan have the lawful claim to the Senkaku Islands and is there potential for a compromise?
  • How can these issues be solved?

Resources to Consider:

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