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Megi Qavtaradze

Impact of Russian Foreign Policy on the Conflict of South China Sea

Conflict in South China Sea is an example as to how confrontation that commenced at the regional level became a global problem and the “hot point” for global problem and confrontation for big and powerful states.

In 2014-2015, conflict between China and Vietnam made apparent the significance of the region, where the most powerful states fought for expansion of spheres of influence.

This confrontation acquired specific significance only when in 2014-2015 years direct attacks took place between China and Vietnam, which is known under the name “South China Sea Conflict”.

Role of Russia in the South China Sea Conflict  of 2014-2015 was fundamentally significant, since  irrespective of tendency to expand partnership between Vietnam and China, Russia being a strategic partner of China, supported Vietnam in the South China Sea Conflict without participation in the war operations.

The South China Sea Confrontations of 2014

Situation between China and Vietnam became strained when on May 3, 2014 China declared officially that oil tanker held by Chinese state offshore oil company (CNOOC) was going to moor at Paracel islands, within 150 miles from the shores of Vietnam. Vietnam denounced this action stating officially that everything took place in its territorial waters.

Irrespective of this fact China realized its decision and moored HD-981 platform in disputable waters, protected in 3 mile radius, approximately by 80 guards and military vessels. And Vietnam vessels which tried at approach the zone were under permanent attacks from China.

This problem caused wide-scale demonstrations in Vietnam population. On May 15, 2014, minimum 21 persons died during anti-China demonstrations and up to 100 were wounded. It was the greatest bloody attack after 1979 in China-Vietnam conflict. On May 15, in the morning 1000 men throng took by storm Thai Still Mill in Ha Tin province, in central Vietnam, where they burnt a building and assaulted Chinese work personnel. Government of Vietnam tried to subdue conflict and arrested 600 men. After it Vietnam, to defend sovereignty, sent the navy vessels and some attacks were realized against 80 China military vessels. At this moment anti-China sentiments in Vietnam gradually were intensified and strained, which formed a situation resembling that which took place in Vietnam 1000 years before, when Vietnam was a colony of China.

Causes of conflict

Several reasons can be attributed to the main cause that conditioned the South China Sea Conflict. Goods available in the South China Sea amount to 5.3 trillion dollars, while the share of the sea in the world trade with marine products amounts to 10%.

Among the reasons conditioning the South China Sea Conflict   holding of energy resources is the key problem. According to the assessment of United States Energy Information Agency in the South China Sea there is 11 milliard barrel oil and 190 trillion cubic meter natural gas, which automatically means that the sea’s energetic potential exceeds that owned by the solid energy exporters of the world. One more cause of dispute is expressed in the control over international trade routes. Control over open sea is within interests of all states, since proceeding from strategic significance of south-east Asia, from this spot freight turnover can be realized to all points.

Struggle for regional hegemony is the fundamental prerequisite in the issue of redistribution of the South China Sea, and if desire of hegemony is considered as a prerequisite of the conflict, then  most urgent is determination of interests of big states engaged indirectly in this conflict, which factually will explain as to why Russia could start rendering help to Vietnam when it could increase risks of tension between Russia’s two allies. To explain and determine it, first of all, it is necessary to define essence of the factors, which determined position of Russia in the South China Sea Conflict.

Why Russia helped Vietnam in the South China Sea Conflict?

Official position of Russia’s foreign policy in the South China Sea is “neutral”, but in reality it is far more façade than one can imagine. In particular, with respect to South China Sea, position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia was based on the idea of non-bias and   non-alignment, but some milliard dollars spent for military armament and energetic treaties refer to the fact that Russia had strategic interests and goals in the south-east Asia and this is determined by combination of various factors.

The fact should be emphasized that China and Russia are allies without treaties. There is no treaty signed about direct strategic partnership among these states, there are only declarations about it. After disintegration of the soviet union, such agreement between two parties was expressed in verbal base and positive declarations of media means  of China or Russia, although on July 24, 2001 president of China Jiang Ze Min and Vladimir Putin signed agreement “On good neighborhood and friendly cooperation”.  These facts incited positive attitudes in the society although irrespective of good neighborly relations Russia’s foreign political position to China is directly based on the issue of South China Sea, which at the background of support to Vietnam is the evidence of façade nature of China-Russia friendship.

One more reason why Russia backed up Vietnam indirectly in a matter of the South China Sea is that Russia was not interested  in open confrontation with United States of America, since position of United States of America to China’s expansionistic policy, was reflected in open confrontation, jointly with allies existing in the region; therefore Russia didn’t want to confront USA’s interests by its interests, for United States of America tried to enter the region via other paths, besides “allying”; for example by gradual removal of embargo on armament that was commenced in 2012.

Irrespective of growth of influence of United States of America, factor of China’s regional “prosperity”  in the region and growth of economic dependence of Russia on China was so great that it would be more profitable for Russia to have better relations with other  regional forces, and to confront such forces indirectly by the growth of China’s influence. Thus, support to Vietnam in the South China Sea conflict of 2014 placed Russia in more profitable position.

The above listed factors determining position of Russia are only concrete issues, which used to affect simultaneously  formation of foreign policy of Russia. We can consider that the most fundamental cause is combination of all above-referred factors, since finally, irrespective of interests, be it economic, marine, energetic potential or amicability of regional states, in case of prosperity of China’s hegemony  economic strife of Russia or desire to hold open waters would be senseless  and it, at the background of increasing economic dependence  on China would lose equal right position of a regional hegemony. Respectively, indirect support of Russia to Vietnam should have been directed so as to hinder growth of China’s influence at the most strategically important section of South China Sea and at the same time to use United States of America, jointly with Vietnam, against China, thus hindering to the creation of one more powerful and  authoritative super-state in the region.

Finally we can state that Russian policy in the South China Sea Conflict was far more complex than it seemed at first glance. Its actions could be explained in several ways: economic profit gained from Vietnam due to military support or accessibility to those potential energy resources, which were available in the South China Sea. And finally everything was reduced to global level and respectively, by indirect engagement in regional conflict, Russia tried to keep destabilization, by hindering growth of China’s role and to stop USA’s program of re-balancing in Asia by strategic partnership with Vietnam and by delivery of arms.

Megi Qavtaradze Analyst of The Association of Young Financiers and Businessmen – AYFB