Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

A South China Sea cauldron in 2020?

China's Liaoning aircraft carrier with accompanying fleet conducts a drill in an area of South China Sea, December 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Swee Lean Collin Koh, RSIS

If events in the South China Sea (SCS) in 2019 provide any indication of what is in store for the coming new year, there seems to be little to be sanguine about.

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Vietnam confronts China in the South China Sea

Author: Do Thanh Hai, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam

Over the last four months, Vietnam has faced a serious challenge to its sovereignty in the South China Sea. Strategic circles in Hanoi are stirred by China’s repeated intrusions into Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off its central and southern coastlines. Read more…

Who’s bullying who in the South China Sea?

The Ronald Reagan Strike Group ship's the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) conduct a photo exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship's the helicopter destroyer JS Kaga (DDH 184), the destroyer JS Inazuma (DD 105) and the destroyer JS Suzutsuki (DD 117) in the South China Sea, 31 August 2018 (Photo: Kaila V. Peter/U.S. Navy/REUTERS).

Author: Mark J Valencia, National Institute for South China Sea Studies

The United States and China are accusing each other of ‘bullying’ in the South China Sea. The epithet is being thrown around rather loosely. But there is some truth to these mutual accusations.

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Chinese lawfare, resource disputes and the law of the sea

Author: Douglas Guilfoyle, UNSW Canberra

China notoriously claims special maritime rights in the South China Sea within the ‘nine-dash line’ that appears on official Chinese maps. The precise origin of the line remains obscured. The ‘nine-dash line’ did not appear on government maps prior to 1947 or in private cartographic exercises before 1933. As late as 2013, prominent Chinese scholars accepted that China had never expressly articulated the line’s legal significance.

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China should be wary of US proposals to protect the Hormuz Strait

Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, 21 December 2018. (Photo: Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed).

Author: Mark J Valencia, National Institute for South China Sea Studies

The United States is proposing a ‘coalition of the willing’ to protect ‘freedom of navigation’ in the Strait of Hormuz. But participation by some countries — such as China — could undermine their position on maritime legal issues. Read more…

Negotiating an effective China–ASEAN South China Sea Code of Conduct

The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) prepares to transit alongside the Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Wally Schirra (T-AKE 8) during a replenishment-at-sea during routine patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, 9 May 2015 (Photo: Conor Minto/Handout via Reuters).

Author: Nguyen Minh Quang, Can Tho University

In August 2018 a single draft negotiating text for a South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) was first put forward with an agreement reached by China and ASEAN to finalise the COC within three years, starting from 2019. Having faced frequent tensions in the South China Sea, the agreement demonstrates that an effective diplomatic mechanism to manage the South China Sea dispute is possible. Read more…

Navigating around the Chinese hegemon

A journalist is seen inside the history gallery of the Party School of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC)'s Central Committee during a government organised visit in Beijing, China 26 June 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Ben Blanchard)

Author: Xiang Gao, University of New England

How a rising China will integrate itself with the global economic and political order is a salient issue in world politics. On the one hand, China’s rejection of the South China Sea arbitration, its efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally and its willingness to work with controversial leadership in developing states indicate a more assertive ‘China First’ foreign policy. On the other hand, it is evident that China is engaging in significant multilateral and normative actions. Read more…

The US–Philippine alliance is moving beyond ‘ironclad’

Philippines Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana meets with U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on the sidelines of the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, 2 June 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su).

Author: Gregory Poling, CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

At the start of 2019, it looked like the US–Philippines alliance was heading for crisis. Delfin Lorenzana, the normally pro-American Philippine Secretary of National Defense, began calling for a review of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and its application in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Read more…

The rules-based maritime order is not completely adrift

One of Australia’s big decks – HMAS Canberra – made its debut appearance at IMDEX Asia in May 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Australian Defence Force/Kev Bristow WB).

Author: See Seng Tan, RSIS

Over two days in May 2019, navy chiefs and maritime experts from across the world gathered in Singapore for the sixth edition of the International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC). The conference is held biennially as part of the Marine Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEX Asia), reputedly the Asia Pacific’s premier international maritime defence show. Read more…

The standoff at Sandy Cay in the South China Sea

A Filipino soldier patrols at the shore of Thitu Island (Photo: Reuters/Ritchie B. Tongo).

Author: Mark J Valencia, National Institute for South China Sea Studies

The appearance of a new natural feature in the Spratly Islands — Sandy Cay — is causing a dangerous standoff over its ownership.

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Standing on the shoulders of science above the South China Sea fray

Lan Tay gas platform, operated by Rosneft Vietnam, in the South China Sea off the coast of Vung Tau, Vietnam, 29 April 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov).

Authors: James Borton, University of South Carolina and Jackson Ewing, Duke University

The waters of the South China Sea face environmental peril that is ‘inseparable from the territorial disputes that plague it’. As claimants solidify their positions through artificial island construction, with China driving the most ambitious builds, habitats with wide-ranging ecological and economic value are being destroyed. Read more…

China’s assertive maritime policy is older than Xi

Navy personnel of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea 12 April 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Andrew Chubb, Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program

The toughening of China’s policies in the South and East China Seas is widely regarded as a defining characteristic of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy. But while it is true that the PRC has become more assertive in its maritime disputes under Xi, China had already been on such a trajectory since 2006. Many changes in China’s maritime dispute behaviour under Xi may be better understood as continuities. Read more…

Time to speak up about the South China Sea

Activists display placards as they chant slogans during a rally to protest alleged harassment of Philippine fishermen at the Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines, 12 June 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro).

Author: Lyle J Morris, RAND Corporation

There appears to be a collective aversion among government officials and heads-of-state in Southeast Asia to speak up in public about Chinese transgressions and coercion in the South China Sea. Such reticence is based on misplaced fear of Chinese repercussions and does a disservice to regional interests, undermines deterrence and needlessly concedes leverage in negotiations with China on territorial disputes or a South China Sea Code of Conduct.

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Favourable currents for ASEAN–China relations in the South China Sea

Members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and navy hold Chinese flags during the opening ceremony of the first China-ASEAN Maritime Exercise in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, China, 22 October 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Sam Bateman, University of Wollongong

Despite increased friction between the United States and China, on balance, positive developments in the South China Sea outweighed negative ones this year. Read more…

Watch out Rim of the Pacific, a Rim of China may be on the horizon

Military personnel take part in a maritime rescue exercise near Chinese amphibious transport dock Kunlun Shan during the China–ASEAN Maritime Exercise in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, China, 23 October 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Tuan N Pham, Yokosuka

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and navies from 10 ASEAN member states carried out a field-training exercise in the South China Sea (SCS) from 22–28 October 2018. The joint naval manoeuvre followed a joint ASEAN–China table-top exercise in Singapore on 2 August. Together these drills mark the inaugural ASEAN–China maritime exercise — the first time such exercises have been conducted between ASEAN and another country. Read more…