Territorial disputes are the most frequently cited cause of wars in history, but do states fight as frequently over islands? This article shows that island disputes are less likely to escalate into deadly conflict.
On September 8, 2017, the South China Sea Think Tank hosted a Guest Lecture with Bill Hayton (@bill_hayton) on “The Modern Origins of China’s Claims in the South China Sea”. Hayton is an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House, a BBC journalist, and the author of The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia.
The event was attended by over 70 people, including local and international scholars, government and military officials, graduate students, and media. Supporting organizations included the Asia-Pacific Policy Research Association, Taiwan Center for Security Studies, Institute of Marine Affairs and Policy, and Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University.
Download the report: South China Sea Lawfare (2017)
On July 12, 2016, the Tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration case issued its Award, officially bringing closure to the arbitral proceedings initiated by the Philippines against China in early 2013. In the Award, the Tribunal’s conclusions overwhelmingly supported the Philippines’ positions regarding almost all of the fifteen submissions in its Memorial. The Tribunal also rejected or opted not to take into account the vast majority of China’s positions as elaborated through official statements and was similarly not persuaded by arguments issued or evidence presented by Taiwan.
The Award, especially due to relevant countries’ policy responses and the enduring controversy over its content, has significant implications for the South China Sea maritime territorial disputes, which remain one of the most potent and complex issues affecting stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. In the post-arbitration context, rival claimants and major stakeholders have been forced to recalibrate their rhetoric, strategies, and policies in order to safeguard their interests and rights in the maritime area while maintaining an image internationally that is conducive to achieving these aims.
This report, entitled South China Sea Lawfare: Post-Arbitration Policy Options and Future Prospects, builds upon the success of the first South China Sea Lawfare report that was published in early 2016. By bringing together an international team of experts writing on the different approaches of each claimant and stakeholder, it aims to serve as a more inclusive reference on post-arbitration South China Sea policy issues than the many other analyses published in the aftermath of the Award.
In Part I: Introduction, the report begins by giving a brief overview of the arbitral proceedings in historical perspective and summarizing the legal positions of the parties involved and the Tribunal’s conclusions as described in its two awards. In Part II: Rival Claimants and Part III: Major Stakeholders, the chapters focus on (1) the specific policy approaches of each country or actor; (2) the implications of the Award for each; (3) the legal, diplomatic, and security policy options available to them; and (4) their future prospects in the post-arbitration context of the South China Sea. In Part IV: Conclusion, the report explores the implications of the Award for international maritime law and the future of maritime territorial disputes. By encouraging and compiling a diversity of views on the South China Sea, the editors hope that this report will serve over the coming years as a resource for policymakers, a foundation for future research, and an example of constructive international collaboration in the midst of the disputes.
Far from making progress towards a South China Sea dispute settlement, the Award in the Philippines v. China arbitration case has all but ensured that debate will continue. In particular, the Tribunal’s controversial conclusions regarding Itu Aba (Taiping) Island’s legal status may have already reduced the effectiveness and perceived validity of the Award.
A decade ago, China and the Philippines demonstrated that they had the resolve to cooperate on joint exploration projects, but nationalist outcry in the Philippines derailed these efforts. Now that the Philippines v. China arbitration case has concluded, reviving the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) or a similar program may once again offer a win-win solution.
South China Sea Think Tank summarizes the Philippines’ submissions and additional claims, the Tribunal’s conclusions contained in its Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility, and its conclusions made in its final Award in the Philippines v. China arbitration case.
As the US Navy increases its presence in the South China Sea in an attempt to maintain US primacy in Asia, it risks provoking a military clash with China. If regional stability is to be maintained, the US will need to rethink its strategy and seek a compromise.
Environmental degradation remains at the center of scientific conversation on the South China Sea as more marine scientists sound the alarm about the environmental consequences of China’s island-building activities there. The problems facing the sea are as vast, deep, and seemingly intractable as the sea itself, and the need to address issues of acidification, biodiversity loss, climate change, and the destruction of coral reefs is urgent. The key is international scientific cooperation and for scientists from around the world to come together to provide policymakers with the information they need to make informed and responsible decisions in the South China Sea.