The Neverending Story: Drama in the South China Sea
Image Credit: Wikicommons

The Neverending Story: Drama in the South China Sea


The South China Sea is often presented as one of the world’s thorniest territorial disputes. A group of objective, completely disinterested observers, however, would likely find this characterization peculiar. Indeed, to these hypothetical people, it would seem painfully obvious what needed to be done to at least significantly reduce the tensions in the South China Sea. Such a plan would likely start with four simple steps:

Step 1: Put sovereignty issues to one side. These are too complex and too emotive to be solved in the foreseeable future.

Step 2: Establish who claims what. China, for example, is extremely protective of its sovereignty, but it has never made a precise declaration about which areas of the South China Sea it actually owns (vaguely drawing dashes on a map doesn’t count). Claims should be filed with the UN’s International Court of Justice by a certain date – complete with latitude or longitude coordinates – or be considered frivolous by the rest of the world.

Step 3: Use UNCLOS wherever possible. Here’s a happy coincidence: all South China Sea claimants have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. That should make this situation so much easier to handle. For areas that are not contested, UNCLOS clearly lays out the rights of the claimant state and also of non-claimant states in territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. Any problems and the Convention (Article 279 ff.) also has a detailed dispute-resolution mechanism.

Step 4: Neutralize the contested areas. If the disputants really want to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea – and they all say that they do – then they obviously need to draw up a set of rules governing what is and is not allowed in disputed zones. They could call it a Code of Conduct, or some something of the sort. Likely rules would include: the demilitarization of disputed areas; refraining from any provocative rhetoric or action, such as new construction projects on contested islands; no exploration for, or exploitation of, marine resources, unless the claimants agree to do it jointly; and the establishment of a dispute resolution mechanism, probably under the auspices of the ICJ.

November 6, 2012 at 14:47

China's claim on South China Sea is baseless. It can't even draw a proper & precise map of its own claim. It basically pulled out a pen and dragged around and said "This is our!". As ridiculous as it sounds, China's pushing it because it can. China is a hungry monster with a huge population that is growing. It will need more and more resource to feed it ever growing population and it will wage wars if necessary. So the lesson to the neighbor countries, build your own nuclear weapons have them point to every China major cities. Only that way you won't be their slaves and you may  have a chance keep your land.

October 2, 2012 at 19:40

[...] mạnh - Chuyện không bao giờ kết thúc: Kịch tính trên biển Đông (Boxit VN/Diplomat). Liệu Mỹ có hạ được nhiệt ở Biển Đông (ND). Điềm báo: Trung Quốc [...]

Gutter Oil
September 26, 2012 at 12:55

dream on! 

Gutter Oil
September 26, 2012 at 12:53

…and the pigs can fly! 
have you ever heard of an old adage ' if it breaks, it must be made from china"? 
come on john chan,  chinese-made products are dime-by the-dozen!   in other words, they're cheap!
just like what i've said, the only thing you didn't copy/fake/steal yet is 'DEMOCRACY'…why don't you start doing it now? 

Moira Gallaga
September 25, 2012 at 23:08

This will take decades to resolve. As the article quite accurately points out, the steps to take are quite straightforward if one were objective about it. However, there is no such thing as objectivity when national interests are involved. China will not in any way relinquish whatever advantage and leverage it currently enjoys with the prevailing status quo.

Leonard R.
September 16, 2012 at 10:56

Bi-lateral negotiations make sense – if there are only two claimants.
If there are more than two claimants – bi-lateral negotiations are pointless. 
In the case of the Scaborough Shoal, there should be no negotiations at all. 
Manila should invoke its MDT with the US and request military assistance.

Gutter Oil
September 15, 2012 at 11:17

@urabus: wow! what a strong words! now i'm scared! did you just say blowup USA and the Philippines?  
are you out of your mind? or you consumed too much gutter oil in your breakfast today?
as far as the world is concerned dude, the only thing that china can blow is its tofu-like bullet trains and bridges! 
you call china a civilization state, when you kill your unborn(abortion) for fun? wow! did you watch the news lately or your oppressive government censor that too? hmmm… what a hypocrite bunch! 

September 14, 2012 at 17:05

Who  is this gutter oil?  So low and a person who has no self respect! China is a civilization state and not a nation state if China behave only half of what you make up in seeing the world – Philippines or US would have long blown out of this world.

September 14, 2012 at 09:28

@JC The Americans were never in precarious situation even with Majority of its Military might in Europe fighting the Nazi's the United States were able to hold off Japan in the Pacific. Filipino and American men died in the Philippines holding the Japanese Offensive for 3 months for Australia to prepare and mobilize. 

Though, the only thing I can say is that why did America Prioritize Europe when its very Colony and both Americans and Filipino's were suffering in the Philippines yet no help arrived. Only General McArthur came back and helped us.

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