South China Sea Conundrum Serious Threat To Peace In Southeast Asia – Analysis


According to American scholar Robert D. Kaplan, the South China Sea (SCS) has become “Asia’s Cauldron”. Some refer to the SCS as “unchartered waters”. All recent developments clearly indicate that the SCS has transformed into a dangerous playing field for global powers.

During the 1970s, Southeast Asia was considered a“troubled” region as a result of the Vietnam War. Now the SCS issue risks bringing an end to four decades of peace and stability in Southeast Asia. Once again, the region is on the verge of becoming “troubled”.

The Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) mentioned in its recent annual 2015 Global Peace Index about the rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. “The South China Sea remains a potential area for conflict, with countries involved in the dispute (China, Vietnam and the Philippines) all showing a worsening of their scores in the 2015 index,” the IEP said.

China was ranked at 126 out of 162 countries surveyed in the Global Peace Index, while the Philippines stood at 141st and Vietnam at 56th.

What is at stake in the South China Sea?

Before the 1970s, no countries were particularly interested in the South China Sea, even if one country occupied a rock or reef or constructed something on an islet.

“The rapid economic development of the countries around the SCS, particularly China, led to a scramble for the natural resources of the SCS, both living and non-living,” says Indonesian maritime expert Prof. Hasjim Djalal.

The SCS — known in China as the South Sea, in Vietnam as the East Sea and in the Philippines as the West Philippines Sea — is a region rich in fisheries and hydrocarbon reserves, and also provides the shortest route between the Indian and Western Pacific oceans. More than US$5 trillion worth of global trade flows through its waters.

The problem with the claims of China and Taiwan — both of which are based on the countries’ so-called “indisputable sovereignty” according to the 1947 nine-dash line map, the mother of all disputes — is that the claims are not clear, and the countries also never clarified with other claimant countries what that sovereignty covers. The legality and the precise locations indicated by the nine dashes are not clear.

“Both Beijing and Taipei have declined to explain what the nine bars signify, whether they are meant to claim sovereignty or some kind of maritime jurisdiction over the entire expanse of water that the lines encompass or only over the land features within the interrupted line,” Rodolfo C. Severino, an expert on ASEAN affairs, wrote in a recently published book titled Entering Uncharted Waters? ASEAN and the South China Sea.


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