Nine Dash Line: Deciphering the South China Sea Conundrum

Pooja Bhatt

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The South China Sea (SCS) has been in limelight since UNCLOS Arbitration Tribunal gave its judgement in July 2016. Famously known as Permanent Court of Arbitration verdict 2016, it decided in favour of the Philippines on its maritime entitlements over the landforms in the SCS and nullified Chinese actions and position there. China refused the arbitration’s verdict on several grounds and went ahead with the militarization of the islands. Moreover, it continues to assert its ‘historic rights’ over more than 80 percent of the SCS as its Nine Dash Claim and the landforms within it.

This book seeks answers for China’s behaviour in the SCS. It does so by looking at the issue from several angles- historic, environmental, legal, trade and commerce, security as well as its relations with South East Asian countries that have EEZ claims in the SCS. When looked through these multiple perspectives, Chinese actions and behaviour in the SCS seem to fit in its China’s grand strategy, that is, to become global and maritime superpower by 2050. Nine Dash Line is the centre of that strategy.

The waters of South China Sea region is shared by several littorals and transited for trade by several others. China’s unilateral claims and actions are likely to have repercussions on the larger geo-politics. Therefore, it would be beneficial for all if the SCS high seas and resources are seen and treated as a ‘global commons’.

Beijing has repeatedly demonstrated an unusually belligerent position with respect to the SCS waters, not only with the regional littorals but also with extra-regional countries. Countries such as the US, UK, France, India among others see themselves as the stakeholders in the peace and security of the region.

Pooja Bhatt Pooja Bhatt worked as Research Associate at Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi where she worked on the understanding China’s Nine Dash Line grand strategy. In the past she worked with at Indian Council of World Affairs, a research institute under Ministry of External Affairs, India. Besides working extensively on maritime issues particularly Indo-Pacific and South China Sea, Pooja finds her immense interests in issues related to defence and strategic studies, civil-military relations, nuclear energy and non-proliferation. She writes opinion pieces for The Hindu, Stimson Centre (USA), The Diplomat, etc. Her longer articles on strategic issues have appeared in several reputed journals including the US Air War College Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs (JIPA).

She is pursuing her Ph.D in Diplomacy and Disarmament from JNU, New Delhi. She holds M.A. in International Relations and M.Phil in Diplomacy and Disarmament from JNU.






1. What Makes the Nine Dash Line Special?: A Background
2. Legalities of the Chinese Claims in the Nine Dash Line
3. Nine Dash Line in China’s ‘Rise to Power’ 4. South China Sea Littorals: ‘Contested’ Spaces and Coordinating Relations
5. The Security Dynamics: PLAN, Coast Guard and Maritime Militia
6. Economic Importance of the South China Sea
7. Climate Change and Environmental Perspective in the SCS
8. Conclusion



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