The South China Sea and Australia’s regional security environment

Fiery Cross Reef AMTI

Research team

Research summary

The NSC’s fifth Occasional Paper is a collection of articles from a research project on the South China Sea disputes undertaken by the NSC in 2013.

The South China Sea has been an ongoing maritime dispute for over six decades and in recent years has become one of East Asia’s most dangerous flashpoints. China’s claim has been expressed in the nine dash-line which appears in official documents but whether it refers to islands or sea area remains ambiguous.The Vietnamese claim overlaps with the Chinese and is similarly unclear. The Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim contiguous parts of the area and Indonesia has a conflicting claim to the EEZ around its Natuna islands.

The project sought to understand the perspectives and interests informing each of the claimant states’ positions. It also examined the conflict potential of the current dispute and will also explore avenues for a resolution of the issue based on ASEAN’s proposal for a Code of Conduct, dispute resolution under UNCLOS and notions of conflict prevention in general.

Initially presented at a conference on the South China Sea held in March 2013, the articles gathered in this Occasional Paper were edited by Dr Leszek Buszynski and Dr Christopher Roberts and launched at Parliament House in September of that year. They discuss concerns over the development of events in the South China Sea and expressions by some commentators that the area is a ‘flashpoint’ and could become unmanageable. The paper was a pre-cursor to a book published by Routledge in 2015.

The first paper by Leszek Buszynski, researcher and teacher in strategic studies as the SDSC and NSC ANU, examines the development of the dispute over past decades.

The second, by Clive Schofield, discusses the conflicting and overlapping claims to the South China Sea from spatial, legal and geopolitical perspectives.

Donald R. Rothwell examines the legal side of the dispute, and specifically the capacity of maritime features in the South China Sea to generate maritime zones consistent with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Dr Jian Zhang presents on China’s perspective, while Do Thanh Hai explains Vietnam’s perspective. China’s challenge to the Philippine claim in the area and the Philippine position is examined by Renato DeCastro, followed by Ralf Emmers’ presentation on the US view over the South China Sea.

Christopher Roberts and Gary Collinson discuss the ASEAN’s role in the dispute and the reasons for its division over the issue and Michael Wesley traces the implications for Australia, stressing that Australia should promote a sustainable solution to the dispute.

Finally, stabilisation and resolution is deliberated with investigation into potential solutions that may not have been previously discussed.

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