As one of the major marginal seas in the world, the South China Sea (SCS) is defined by the International Hydrographic Bureau as the semi-enclosed body of water, situated from three degrees south latitude between South Sumatra and Kalimantan (Kalimantan Straits), and to the Strait of Taiwan from the northern tip of Taiwan to the mainland coast of China, and stretching in a southwest to northeast direction. The South China Sea is a semi-enclosed sea bordered by the ASEAN member states (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and China (including Taiwan). For the purpose of discussion, the South China Sea also includes the adjoining Gulf of Thailand and the Gulf of Beibu (Tonkin).
This chapter aims to examine the recent relationship and cooperation between ASEAN and China in the South China Seas (SCS). To this end, it will proceed in four steps: First, the chapter begins with a brief introduction to the SCS and its importance. Second, it recalls the recent developments and their implications. Third, the chapter proceeds to examine the cooperative activities in terms of confidence-building. Finally, it attempts to sum up some of the major findings and offer some policy recommendations where possible.
IMPORTANCE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA
The total area of the waters of Southeast Asia is about 8.9 million square kilometres, accounting for 2.5 per cent of the world's ocean waters, out of which, the SCS, including the Gulf of Thailand, has a total area of about 3.5 million square kilometres. The significance of the South China Sea is characterized by its environmental and ecological value, living and nonliving natural resources, and geopolitical and strategic position. It is the world's most diverse shallow-water marine area. Such richness in flora and fauna contributes to the area's high natural rates of primary and secondary production.
First, the coastal sub-regions of the nations bordering the SCS are home to 270 million people, or 5 per cent of the world's population. The population in the region is predicted to increase from 475 million in 1993 to 726 million by the year 2025.2 In Southeast Asia, more than 70 per cent of the population live in coastal areas, and their dependency on the SCS for resources and transportation is high.