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3 - Why is There a Relative Peace in the South China Sea?

from Part One - Overview

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Mikael Weissmann
Affiliation:
Uppsala University
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Summary

The South China Sea (SCS) represents a historical success of conflict prevention and peace building. It has been, and is, the locus of a number of territorial conflicts between China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and a region where regular military clashes have occurred. In Sino-ASEAN relations, the SCS is the most likely flashpoint to escalate into war, or generally undermine otherwise positive developments. To cite, Rodolfo C. Severino, former ASEAN Secretary- General, “[i]f not for the South China Sea, China-ASEAN relations would be hassle free”. It is not without reason that the characterization of the Spratlys as “Asia's next flash point” became a standard reference phrase during the 1990s. However, these predictions seem to have been premature, and have so far not materialized. Indeed, although the underlying incompatibilities have not been resolved, not only have the tensions not escalated into a serious military conflict, but such an event has in fact been mitigated, and as this chapter will argue, a more stable peace has developed.

Scholars of neorealism — the dominant research paradigm for analyses of the East Asian security setting — have painted a gloomy picture of the prospects for the South China Sea and the East Asian region in the post–Cold War era, with perpetual conflicts dominating the predictions. Virtually all analysts of U.S. policy have also made similar assessments. However, these predictions seem to have been premature, and have thus far not materialized. Not only is this the case in the South China Sea, but also in the broader East Asian region where instead of perpetual conflict the post–Cold War era has been characterized by integration and a focus on multilateralism and multilateral cooperation. Though less prone to predict conflict, other mainstream international relations theories fail to account fully for the level of peaceful developments. Liberal institutionalism tends to either give the various institutional arrangements in East Asia more prominence than they deserve, or dismiss them simply because they are so different from the Western ones. Constructivism, on the other hand, tends to give more credit to Asian identity building than it deserves.

This chapter will provide an empirical study of the SCS dispute since the end of the Cold War. More specifically, the study focuses on China's role on behalf of peaceful developments in the SCS and in the overarching Sino-ASEAN relations.

Type
Chapter
Information
Entering Uncharted Waters?
ASEAN and the South China Sea
, pp. 36 - 64
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2014

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