Mitigating the Security Risks in the South China Sea Island Disputes
AIR WAR COLL MAXWELL AFB AL MAXWELL AFB United States
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China, Taiwan and four Southeast Asian states have overlapping claims over a few groups of largely uninhabitable maritime features. In recent years, China has become more assertive in its claims over the disputed territories, raising concerns amongst the international community of the risks to stability and peace in the region. One of the most contentious issues is the extent and jurisdiction of Chinas claims. To date, China has not clarified its claim and instead adopts a policy of ambiguity. It uses diplomacy to stall negotiations, coercive pressure to prevent development of undersea resources, and employs civilian maritime agencies to enforce its control in the South China Sea. The Association of Southeast Nations ASEAN is disunited and has been largely ineffective in moving the dispute forward. However, Chinas assertiveness is a reflection of its lack of good policy options to protect its interests in the context of the US rebalance to the Asia Pacific. Its basic non-escalatory strategy of delay remains unchanged. With the physical occupation and control of maritime features backstopping Chinas claim strength, the situation is stable, albeit fragile. The key to mitigating the security risk in the region is thus to maintain this new equilibrium, discourage claimant states from taking unilateral and revisionist actions, and encourage the development of risk mitigating measures such as the Code of Conduct.