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1 - Preventing Conflict in the South China Sea

from Part One - Overview

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Rodolfo C. Severino
Affiliation:
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies
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Summary

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ASEANfounded and ASEAN-centred, 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) are often derided (or worse) for being unable to “do something” about flashpoints for conflict in their respective areas of coverage — Southeast Asia in the case of ASEAN and the larger Asia-Pacific in the case of the ARF — although what precisely they should do is never clear. One of the leading and most prominent of these flashpoints is the South China Sea — the conflicting multiple claims to the land features and waters of that sea (contrary to the government-declared Chinese view, no such claim is “indisputable”).

Yet, there is very little likelihood that the sovereignty or other jurisdictional issues can be definitively resolved anytime soon, or ever. This is because each of the claimants considers and projects its position as its national strategic interest — one of its “core interests”, if you will. Criticism of ASEAN or of the ARF for their inability to remove the South China Sea flashpoint by resolving the sovereignty and jurisdictional disputes flies in the face of this reality.

The Chinese government — in Beijing or in Taipei — fears that losing control of the South China Sea would render China vulnerable to other powers’ attempts to encircle it, “contain” its rise, and prevent it from taking (or re-taking) its rightful place in the world. China has an understandable aversion to foreign military vessels lurking close to its shores. The Chinese are probably concerned about an attack — from the sea or from the air — or even an invasion, from the surface of, under or above the South China Sea to their southeast. For their part, the authorities on Taiwan cannot be seen as taking a “softer” position on territorial questions than their counterparts on the Chinese mainland. The South China Sea is also a lucrative source of fish for Taiwanese fishing fleets as well as for other fishing vessels ranging over that vast and open sea.

Vietnam would find itself almost completely surrounded by China, which occupied it for a thousand years and bloodied its nose in 1988, if it were to lose its foothold in the South China Sea. Having been invaded from across the South China Sea during the Pacific War, the Philippines considers it in its security interest to push its western frontier as far out as possible.

Type
Chapter
Information
Entering Uncharted Waters?
ASEAN and the South China Sea
, pp. 3 - 14
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2014

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