In 2017, China strengthened its position in the South China Sea dispute in at least five ways. First, it expanded its construction activities on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly Islands and on North, Tree, and Triton Islands in the Paracel Islands. Since 2014, China has added a total of 290,000 square meters, or 72 acres, of new landmass. The expansion of artificial islands has reinforced its overall ability to control the South China Sea—for example, by allowing for the deployment of fighter jets in the region. For this reason, Xi Jinping praised this achievement as a… Read More »Perspectives on the South China Sea Dispute in 2018
In the South China Sea, where China’s ambitious “nine-dash line” claim of sovereignty has been disputed by several other claimants, relations have in recent weeks turned remarkably chillier. Vietnam and the Philippines are facing the brunt of Beijing’s ire, and the potential for crisis and conflict is significant. Positions are hardening, willingness to compromise is low, and the fact that the Philippines is an ally of the United States raises the potential for a disastrous crisis and potential conflict between the U.S. and China. The clash between China and Vietnam has attracted more attention in recent days. Just a few… Read More »Could Tensions in the South China Sea Spark a War?
Although Vietnam did not intercede in the July 12 Philippines-China arbitration, nonetheless it now finds itself on the right side of the facts and the law in its disputes with China over maritime rights in the South China Sea. The disputes in the South China Sea concern two sets of issues. The tribunal did not have legal competence to decide the first set, which covers questions of ownership over the islands that dot the seascape. These include the Paracel Islands, occupied by China, but claimed by Vietnam, as well as the Spratly Islands that were the subject of the arbitration.… Read More »Vietnam Benefits from the South China Sea Arbitration
In the last decade, many countries in Southeast Asia have formulated new policies in response to the changing strategic environment shaped by the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific, including in the South China Sea. In particular, the final award in the arbitration proceedings in The Hague on July 12, 2016, marked a historical event that has new and major implications for the Asia-Pacific. Despite the importance of the recent ruling, however, Malaysia’s approach to the South China Sea dispute, as outlined below, has remained constant. As a pivotal, nonaligned country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with… Read More »The Award Decision in the Philippines-China Arbitration Case: A Perspective from Malaysia
Nearly four months after the landmark UNCLOS arbitration ruling in the case brought by the Philippines against China, President Rodrigo Duterte’s about-face in his approach to the Philippines’ bilateral disputes with China has dominated regional discussion. While this attention is entirely warranted, it has also meant undue neglect of other dimensions of the ruling and its regional effects. All the South China Sea disputes, including the bilateral one between the Philippines and China at the Scarborough Shoal, are importantly about regional fishing rights. President Duterte’s focus on regaining access to the traditional fishing grounds at Scarborough Shoal has highlighted that… Read More »Follow the Fish: Considering Options in the South China Sea
This MAP Analysis is a preview of the author’s forthcoming article in the January issue of Asia Policy. Coping with “gray zone” situations has in recent years become the core security challenge for Japan. Since September 2012, Beijing has been challenging Japan’s sovereign control of the Senkaku Islands by regularly sending law-enforcement vessels into Japanese territorial waters and contiguous zones. Beijing sends civilian or paramilitary forces to change facts on the ground while daring the targeted country to use force to stop these activities. These incursions, which do not amount to an armed attack, are blurring the line between crime… Read More »Japan’s Coast Guard and Maritime Self-Defense Force: Cooperation among Siblings
On December 15, the latest incident between the United States and China in the South China Sea occurred. This episode involved China’s seizure of an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) operated by a U.S. naval auxiliary ship, the USNS Bowditch. The UUV, a glider that is part of the Littoral Battlespace Sensing system, was being used to collect oceanographic data, such as water temperature and salinity. The incident occurred as the Bowditch was about to recover the drone. Instead, a Dalang III–class Chinese naval submarine salvage and rescue ship, the ASR-510, launched a small craft and seized the drone. China returned… Read More »The Implications of China’s Seizure of a U.S. Navy Drone
On January 9, 2017, Australia and Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor) entered a new chapter in their maritime disagreement with the release of a trilateral joint statement (PCA 2016-10) signed by the two relevant parties and the Conciliation Commission that was constituted pursuant to Annex V of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In this new chapter, both the parties and the international legal community will have to reconsider the core issues underlying the disagreement, including those related to joint development, maritime boundary delimitation, the use of separate versus single lines, the validity of… Read More »Joint Development or Permanent Maritime Boundary: The Case of East Timor and Australia
The December 2016 incident involving a U.S. unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) was neatly wrapped up on December 20 after China returned the vehicle. Despite diverging legal interpretations, the management of the event reflected the political willingness of both countries to keep the South China Sea dispute under control and in a careful balance so that the situation does not escalate into a military confrontation. However, whether this balancing act might continue in the Trump administration remains to be seen. The debate on the presence of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in the South China Sea might add to this uncertainty.… Read More »Beyond the UUV Incident: Challenges in the South China Sea for the Trump Administration
Until 2013, the conflict in the South China Sea had been managed mainly through implementation of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC). The DoC requires the parties to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability in this area. At the 9th ASEAN-China Joint Working Group meeting in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, in September 2013, both sides agreed to give new impetus to the negotiation of a code of conduct (CoC) for the South China Sea. Since then, the massive land reclamation… Read More »A Code of Conduct for the South China Sea: Effective Tool or Temporary Solution?