Disputes in the South China Sea: Southeast Asia’s Troubled Waters
The strategic position and economic value of hundreds of small islands in the South China Sea have provoked claims of sovereignty from most of the neighboring states. China in particular has denied all other countries claims and adopted a position which pays little heed to international legal arrangements. In addition, China is opposing multilateral procedures which could help resolve the conflict with Japan or Vietnam, and potentially with Washington too
This article provides a brief overview of the central aspects of the South China Sea dispute and is divided into five parts. The first part focuses on the geopolitical significance of the South China Sea and how the problem has increasingly become an area of contention between China and the United States. The article goes on to identify why tensions have been rising over the past several years. Part three looks at how the absence of political will among the claimants stands in the way of a legal or negotiated settlement. The fourth section examines how the ten member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have attempted to better manage the dispute and why the results have been so disappointing. The final section assesses why a continuation of the status quo endangers the peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
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