General Studies Paper 2 (International Relations)
Question:- 37. ‘South China Sea is of great geopolitical importance for India.‘ Elaborate. Answer in 150 words.
Aug 11, 2022


The South China Sea is a marginal sea of the Western Pacific Ocean. Overall, one-third of the world’s shipping pass through it, carrying over US$3 trillion worth of trade each year, including most of the world’s requirement for vital commodities like energy and raw materials.



SCS is of great importance for India as can be seen through the following points:



  1. 1.Trade routes including Straits of Malacca: India uses the SCS waterways—the second-most used in the world—for trade worth nearly US$200 billion every year. Nearly 55 percent of India’s trade with the Indo-Pacific region pass through these waters.
  2. 2.Strategic interest: India engages with the region through regular naval deployments, visits and exercises in these waters, through established and growing strategic-military partnerships with the littoral states, involvement in oil exploitation in these waters, and diplomatic discussions. As the Indian Navy also operates in the Western Pacific, secure access through the waters of the South China Sea becomes important.
  3. 3.Regional growth: The SCS has the potential to enhance regional growth and further India’s engagement with Southeast Asia. ASEAN and the far-eastern Pacific are the focus areas of Act East policy, and the Southeast Asian commons are a “vital facilitator of India’s future development.” As ASEAN countries’ relations with China come under more strain, India is eager to play the role of a responsible regional stakeholder that can help find a balance amidst the disputes.
  1. 4.Security: Any military conflict in South China Sea will have ramification on the Indian Ocean region. It may hamper regional security situation and in such case India’s relationship with South East Asian countries may get disrupted. Also, there is global maritime security interest involved in the region and many nations want India to balance the assertive and rising China and like it to get involved in the dispute to maintain peace and security in the region.
  2. 5.India carries out oil exploration activities in Vietnamese waters: South China Sea is an endowed ecosystem that is home to rich biodiversity and varied resources, including an estimated 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves-India itself signed an agreement with Vietnam in October 2011 to expand and promote oil exploration in the South China Sea.



India, while not a South China Sea littoral state, is invested in the maintenance of the rules-based order and freedom of navigation in these sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). India intends to move away from its historical “balanced” approach towards China and the SCS disputes, and play a more proactive role, guided by its Act East policy, in particular, as well as its overall Indo-Pacific vision. Indeed, India has economic, diplomatic and strategic interests in the vital waters of the SCS.



Credits: Observer Research Foundation http://Observer Research Foundation