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Brief Overview of South China Sea Dispute

By Soh Shu Heng, Channel News Asia

Published: 18 Mar 2019 - 06:39 AM

The ARF will be discussing the issues of Maritime Security and Cooperation, Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, which are important and relevant issues that are very real in current times. These issues may threaten the security, stability and progress of countries involved, which is of utmost concern and priority to the ARF.

On the issue of Maritime Security and Cooperation, the ARF discusses the issue of the active clashes that countries have due to competing claims over maritime routes referred to as Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) in modern terms. The SLOC are important water bodies which hold immense commercial and strategic value. In fact, about 15% of the total volume of world trade transit in the SLOCs in and around the SEA region, and the seabeds there contain valuable resources such as oil and minerals. Therefore, countries are highly sensitive towards any unusual developments concerning these waters, competing with strategic divergence and dominance in decision-making. This gives rise to tension and conflicts, such as the major flashpoint, the maritime boundary dispute over the South China Sea.

The dispute involves China and a few other Southeast Asian countries, such as Brunei Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines as there are overlapping claims over the island chain clusters of the Spratlys and Paracels in the South China Sea. There is also the East China Sea, in which China, Japan and Taiwan all lay claim to a Japanese administered chain of island. China has marked out lines on the sea ,claiming that most of the sea belongs to them. Not only did China claim "irrefutable" sovereignty over most of the South China Sea and the islands in it, it also accuses the United States of raising military tension with its navy presence there. These actions taken by China have sparked tension between the countries.

The territorial claims from different countries relating to the South China Sea

The territorial claims from different countries relating to the South China Sea

With the strained relationships amongst these countries, the leading regional organisation, ASEAN, and the ARF failed to resolve the issue effectively as they were unable to make significant inroads into management and resolution dialogue, and even seem to hold strategic divergence in themselves. Although there have been concrete diplomatic actions, such as the single draft negotiating text for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea in 2018, China has yet to stop its expansion in these maritime waters, ignoring all actions the ARF has proposed to China. This shows that the ARF’s diplomatic actions are not as effective as they should be.

Hopefully, through newly proposed frameworks and solutions, with the consideration of internal and external regional powers, there can be better handling of this tricky matter, giving a more satisfying resolution towards this issue and those involved in it.