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  • Context (IE): China has demanded the removal of the Sierra Madre ship. Philippines has rejected it.

About the Sierra Madre

  • Sierra Madre was constructed in the US for World War II and commissioned in 1944 as a landing ship.
  • Subsequently, it was sent to Vietnam during the US participation in the Vietnam War (1954-75).
  • In 1976, it was transferred to the Philippines, an ally of the US.
  • In the 1990s, the Philippines decided to bring this ship to the Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef located in the South China Sea.
  • In 1999, the Sierra Madre was left on the Second Thomas Shoal, which is a part of the mostly uninhabited Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
  • The placement of the ship was deliberate in order to further its territorial claims.
  • China also has deployed its ships in the vicinity. It has also directed water cannons at supply boats.
  • The ship is largely dilapidated and rusting. However, for the Philippines, its removal would risk weakening its claims over the islands and the Chinese presence being established.
  • Landing Ship is the naval designation for ships supporting amphibious operations by carrying tanks, vehicles, cargo and landing troops directly onto a low slope beach with no docks or piers.

Confrontation over the Spratly Islands

Spratly Islands

  • For decades, countries in the region have extended overlapping claims on the South China Sea, claiming ownership over the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands.
  • Along with issues over sovereignty, the rich oil and gas reserves in the region and its rich fishing waters have also encouraged countries to lay their claims.
  • China took effective control of the disputed Scarborough Shoal after a tense standoff in 2012.
  • In the Xi Jinping regime, China has assumed a hardened stance, claiming 90% of the South China Sea.
  • China also rejected the 2016 International Court of Justice ruling regarding the South China Sea.

US response on the issue

  • The US supports the Philippines as an important strategic ally.
  • In May 2023, the two countries also agreed on new guidelines for a defence treaty from 1951.
  • The guidelines reaffirm the invoking mutual defence commitments under the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in case of any aggression.

India’s stakes in South China Sea

  • Freedom of navigation: The South China Sea is not China’s sea but a global common. India supports freedom of navigation and the rule of law across global commons.
  • Sea Lane of Communication: It has been an important sea lane of communication since the very beginning, and passage has been unimpeded over the centuries.
  • History of Indian presence: Indians have sailed these waters for well over 1,500 years, and there is ample historical and archaeological proof of a continuous Indian presence from Malaysia to China.
  • Trade route: Nearly $200 billion of our trade passes through the South China Sea.
  • Essential for regional peace: India shares the stakes in the peace and security of this region, which are essential for our economic well-being.
  • Support to Philippines: India has reiterated support for Philippines in upholding its national sovereignty.
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