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Project: ASEAN, China, America and the South China Sea Dispute

ASEAN, China, America and the South China Sea Dispute:
How Geopolitics Complicates Regional Norm-Building and Conflict Resolution

Image copyright: U.S. Navy        

Since 2008, territorial and maritime boundary disputes in the South China Sea have risen to the top of Asia’s security agenda. Tensions have been on the upswing due to a combination of factors including rising nationalism in the claimant countries (especially China, Vietnam, and the Philippines), attempts by governments to strengthen their sovereignty and jurisdictional claims, growing competition over maritime resources, the on-going militarization of the dispute, and a more proactive interest by external powers. 

The three principal actors are the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China and, increasingly, the United States. This research project examines the roles of these three players and identifies where their interests converge, and where they diverge. In particular it will focus on three interconnected aspects of the problem. 

First, attempts by ASEAN and China to better establish new norms and rules such as the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the proposed Code of Conduct, and why those initiatives have yielded mixed results. 

Second, divisions within ASEAN and the lack of consensus on how to reduce tensions and achieve a solution. 

Third, how growing strategic competition between the United States and China in Southeast Asia, and Washington’s “pivot” to the region, has complicated the dispute, exacerbated tensions, and reduced further the prospects of a negotiated settlement.

For more information about this project, please contact Ian Storey at ijstorey@iseas.edu.sg