Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

South China Sea Disputes and Sino-ASEAN Relations: China's Maritime Strategy and Possibility of Conflict Management1

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

South China Sea Disputes and Sino-ASEAN Relations: China's Maritime Strategy and Possibility of Conflict Management1

Article excerpt


China's assertive behavior has been gaining considerable attention recently and many scholars and diplomats are increasingly concerned about the possibility of war as China continues its rapid military build-up.

Regional tensions in the South China Sea have created divisions within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The cohesion of ASEAN is undermined by contradictory policies formulated by its member states. In respect to increasing disputes over territories in the South China Sea, ASEAN member states have disagreed over the rightfulness of China's wide-reaching aggressive moves in their neighborhood. Among ASEAN the atmosphere is generally peaceful; Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam coexist without tension or conflict, But China and the Philippines are constantly in conflict, mostly of a diplomatic nature, though armed conflict has broken out between these two countries in the past. Other ASEAN states strive to remain neutral (Xinhua News Agency, 2011 August 31). Exploring the intentions behind China's new maritime strategy has helped to shed light on the implications of the standoff between China and the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal, over which several observers have raised concerns (Kastner, 2012; Holmes and Yoshihara, 2012 April 23).

ASEAN as it strives to maintain cohesion and neutrality is no more likely to side with China than it is the United States or its ally, Japan. While China and the US compete for regional influence, ASEAN, being placed between the two superpowers would be at a better advantage as a cohesive rather than a disjointed bloc. With China endeavoring to enhance its power in the Western Pacific, East Asian countries have shown renewed willingness to align with the United States. However, these countries would like to avoid conflict with a gradually more powerful China since it is also a major trading partner with them. America can effectively counter Chinese aggression with a grand strategy that emphasizes increasing trade and commitments across the Indo-Pacific region with the world's most vibrant economies situated there.

Currently, the main source of tension in the area is the disputed islands in the South China Sea. In 2002, China and ASEAN signed a "Statement on the behavior of Parties in South China Sea" which repeated that acceptance of a civilized code of behavior would further stimulate amity and stability in the region. Some critics have suggested that ASEAN wants a more active agreement with significant conflict-reducing mechanisms and militaryoptions rather than the issuance of non-binding decrees about flare-ups between China and its neighbors or the U.S. If framed by competent and effective diplomats, a nonbinding decree could reduce tensions.


The fundamental framework of this study encompasses a lack of a security organization or other formal conflict management mechanism to prevent conflict escalation and encourage peaceful interactions among nations on the shores of the South China Sea. An informal means of communication among potential combatants would be efficacious in addressing escalating tensions. Such as the conflicting within ASEAN and its burdensome consensusbuilding course has stopped it from partaking a facilitating role is distressing. ASEAN could go a long way toward demonstrating its value to provincial peace and safety by playing a positive role in de-escalating the encounter.

ASEAN currently provides certain informal means of communication amongst its members, but this could be streamlined and optimized in order to address quickly developing events.

Flistorical research has shown that peaceful conflict resolution is aided by informality and casual procedures. Under the Aquino regime, the Philippines' government's harder attitude towards China with respect to the South China Sea disputes is threatening the delicate diplomatic balance between the two countries and threatens efforts to resolve disputes. …

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