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The South China Sea Dispute: Increasing Stakes and Rising Tensions

Publication: Volume: 0 Issue: 0
November 20, 2009 01:14 PM Age: 7 yrs
Category: Report, China and the Asia-Pacific, Featured, Home Page

Tensions are on the rise in the South China Sea. Longstanding sovereignty disputes over the profusion of atolls, shoals and reefs that dot the 1.2 million square miles of sea, allied to extensive overlapping claims to maritime space, have been a source of serious interstate contention over the years, especially during the 1990s. A brief easing of tensions occurred in the first half of this decade due in part to China’s more accommodating and flexible attitude, which was part of a diplomatic “charm offensive” toward Southeast Asia intended to assuage regional anxieties over the country’s growing economic, political and military clout. Over the past several years, however, China has reverted to a more assertive posture in consolidating its jurisdictional claims, expanding its military reach and seeking to undermine the claims of other states through coercive diplomacy.

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Table of Contents

I. Executive Summary
II. Key Findings
III. Why are the South China Sea Disputes Important?
    a. Significance of the South China Sea and the South China Sea Disputes
    b. Conflicting Sovereignty Claims
    c. Sovereignty Over What?
    d. Overlapping Maritime Claims
    e. A Fresh Dimension: Outer Continental Shelf Submissions
    f. Claims From Where?

IV. China Reasserts Itself in the South China Sea

V. The Regional Perspective: ASEAN and the Southeast Asian Claimants
    a. ASEAN’s Lackluster Response
    b. The Philippines: Militarily Weak, Legally Schizophrenic
    c. Vietnam: Diplomacy and Deterrence
    d. Malaysia: Downplaying Tensions but Remaining Vigilant
    e. Brunei: A Low Key Approach
    f. Indonesia: Old Issues Resurface

VI. U.S. Strategic and Commercial Interests in the South China Sea


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