The South China Sea Dispute: A Review of Developments and their Implicationssince the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties
Ian Storey and Carlyle A. Thayer
Ian Storey is a Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.Carlyle A. Thayer is Professor of Politics, School of Humanities and Social Sciences,University College, University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, Australia.
Among all of Southeast Asia’s territorial disputes none is more complex and contentiousthan the South China Sea. For much of the 1990s this issue was a source of seriousinterstate tension between several ASEAN states and China. The focus of the dispute iscontested sovereignty over two chains of islands, the Paracels and Spratlys. The ParacelIslands, which lie off the central coast of Vietnam and southeast of China’s HainanIsland, are claimed by both the Chinese and Vietnamese governments. In 1974, China’sPeople’s Liberation Army (PLA) expelled South Vietnamese forces from the Paracelswhen Hanoi and Beijing were still nominal allies. Since 1975 Hanoi has consistentlyrejected China’s claim to sovereignty over the islands. The Paracel dispute is trulyintractable as Beijing considers the matter closed and even refuses to discuss the issuewith Vietnam.The Spratlys archipelago, located in the southern part of the South China Sea, iscomposed of over 170 geographical features, less than 50 of which can be called islandstechnically. Sovereignty of the features is claimed by five governments: China, Taiwan,Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Brunei only claims an Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ). The islands, rocks and atolls that make up the Spratlys have no intrinsic value inthemselves. Sovereignty is contested because of the potential for rich hydrocarbondeposits under the seabed, and because the Spratlys lie adjacent to the vital Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) that pass through the South China Sea. Since the 1950s each of