Strategy and Law in the South China Sea Disputes: Workshop Report
4 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2020
Date Written: October 16, 2019
The South China Sea dispute is one over the Chinese claim to rights within the nine-dash line it has drawn in the South China Sea. Within this line China has two objectives. First, it wishes to exercise control, or at least a veto, over resource exploitation, including both fisheries and oil and gas exploration. Second, strategically, China wishes through its island-building to push its defensive perimeter out, secure its sea lines of communication, and achieve area-denial capability. These ambitions cut deep into the rights of neighboring coastal states over their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). The mood within Chinese foreign policy elites appears, however, to have hardened on these questions. Chinese interests in the South China Sea and now framed in terms of asserting and defending Chinese claims rather than maintaining regional stability. Nonetheless, Chinese foreign policy scholars see the South China Sea largely as a diplomatic dispute, and see a greater risk of conflict in the East China Sea.
The South China Sea disputes are deadlocked. There is no reasonable prospect of China modifying its claims to special historic rights within the nine-dash line in the near future. There is also little likelihood of other coastal states relinquishing their own claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In each case, national constituencies and domestic politics will make modification of adopted positions very difficult.
Keywords: South China Sea, UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, nine-dash line, law of the sea, strategic competition, South China Sea dispute
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