The historically disputed waters in the South China Sea have seen increasingly aggressive behaviour from nations trying to strengthen their claims to disputed areas and to develop/expand offshore resources. Much of this dispute is driven by China’s interpretation of the Law of the Sea in terms of the right (or not) of innocent passage through its vast territorial claims in the region. This is an emergent regional issue that should ring alarm bells for all maritime nations.
While many of the countries in the region contemplate legal and diplomatic avenues to address the issues, the international community, led by the USA, has continued to exercise the right of innocent passage by conducting freedom of navigation operations through the area. There has likewise been an increase in political condemnation of China’s continued hegemonic tendencies in the South China Sea.
Given that the South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest waterways, it must be of particular concern to ships on innocent passage that may unwittingly become involved in the conflict. The use of bilateral and/or multilateral fora should be encouraged to prevent an increase in hostilities and, with the build-up of military forces in the region, even full-scale war.
- Maritime borders
- Maritime territorial disputes
- South China Sea
- Freedom of navigation
- Sea lines of communication