Nusantara: Malaysia and the Governance of the South China Sea

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See all articles by Hans-Dieter Evers

Hans-Dieter Evers

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; University of Bielefeld; University of Bonn - Center for Development Research (ZEF)

Date Written: August 18, 2014


Malaysia is a “maritime nation”, but while the governance of urban and rural land is well institutionalized, maritime areas are less well covered. This situation of a “governance void” has led to uncertainty and conflicts and the South China Sea has become a contested maritime space. Contrary to the opinion voiced by many Western commentators, the PRC’s government has not claimed the full territory demarcated by the so-called “red dotted line”, but has claimed an EEZ around islands claimed for historic reasons, following UNCLOS Article 15.

Sociologically speaking the South China Sea is a mediterranean sea and a mediterranean socio-cultural area, or in Malay terms a “Nusantara”. Though there is ample linguistic and archaeological evidence that Austronesian (Malay) seafarers have sailed the South China Sea for centuries, no nautical maps have been discovered in Malay classical texts. Earlier research by the author suggests that Malay and Indonesian seafarers have ample knowledge of rocks, islands and currents in the South China Sea and beyond, but a directory of these names has yet to be assembled, proving Malays utilization of these islands as fishing grounds or shelter. The paper argues that research on the concept of Nusantara or similar concepts would be necessary to establish a Malaysian cultural concept of mediterranean maritime space to assist Malaysia “in the battle of words” for the peaceful and sustainable governance of the South China Sea. Additional research in maritime sociology would be needed to highlight its governance problems and to extend our knowledge on the South China Sea as a cultural area. The Persatuan Sains Sosial Malaysia could and should undertake the task of stimulating research in this direction.

Keywords: South China Sea, international politics, China, Malaysia, maritime

JEL Classification: F, N, O, R

Suggested Citation

Evers, Hans-Dieter, Nusantara: Malaysia and the Governance of the South China Sea (August 18, 2014). Available at SSRN:

Hans-Dieter Evers (Contact Author)

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia ( email )

Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
Bangi, Selangor D.E. 43600
+60-149456927 (Phone)


University of Bielefeld ( email )

Universitätsstraße 25
Bielefeld, 33501

University of Bonn - Center for Development Research (ZEF) ( email )

Walter-Flex-Str. 3
Bonn, NRW 53113
+49-228-731970 (Phone)
+49-228-731972 (Fax)


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