Who governs the South China Sea? Who controls access to its considerable resources? Who ensures safety and security for its many stakeholders? The ANU Political and Social Change (PSC) Forum provides three views on these questions from historical, legal, and resource management perspectives, with special reference to contested claims around Scarborough Shoal.
The South China Sea disputes are driven by conflicting maritime boundary claims, natural resource competition, and nationalist pressures in domestic politics. They persist among countries that otherwise have a high degree of cooperation on trade and commerce. The political stalemate continues because sovereignty claims are widely disputed and international arbitration decisions are not enforceable. How can this paradox be resolved? One promising approach is joint resource management of intrinsically transboundary natural resources such as fisheries to avoid over-exploitation, environmental degradation, irreversible species losses and ecosystem collapse. Successful examples include the 2004 Sino-Vietnamese Tonkin Gulf agreement and the Tuna Conservation Commission.
David Rosenberg is a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University; Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Middlebury College, Vermont, USA; and Editor, www.southchinasea.org. His research focuses on resource management and maritime security in the South China Sea.
Scarborough Shoal is strategically important to China. After the Scarborough Shoal incident in 2012, Philippines tried to make China back down by strengthening her ties with the US. However, China didn’t withdraw her claims but put Scarborough Shoal under her de facto control and denied Filipino fishermen’s access to its adjunct waters. After president Duterte’s state visit to China in 2016, the Filipino fishermen have regained the access. The Scarborough Shoal incident and the following events imply China’s intentions in the South China issue and the possible solution. China welcomes open and cooperative orders on South China Sea.
Jia Deng is a PhD candidate at the Department of International Relations, Nanjing University, China Collaborative Innovation Centre of South China Sea Studies. She is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU.
On July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under Annex VII to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea found overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines in its dispute with the People’s Republic of China over maritime claims and other issues in the South China Sea. The Tribunal could not address land-based issues; only sea-related claims, and only if they did not involve sea-boundary delimitation. Yet was the Court’s reasoning relating to ‘rocks’ and ‘islands’, which was crucial to its consideration of many of the Philippines’ claims, wholly persuasive?
Kirsten Sellars is a Visiting Fellow at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University, and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London. She focuses on modern Asian perspectives on policy and public international law, with a particular interest in the law of the sea, the law governing aggression and uses of force, and international criminal law.