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Title: The South China Sea Quagmire: How the South China has changed since 2009
Authors: Webb, Sean
Advisors: Friedberg, Aaron
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2015
Abstract: The South China Sea is one of the most strategically important locations in the world for four reasons. First, more than half of the world’s maritime trade goes through the South China Sea. Second, it is strategically located; providing and controlling access to Africa, South and East Asia, Oceana, and the Pacific. Whoever controls the Sea can control Asia. Third, the sea around the island chains are rich fishing grounds that the littoral states depend upon economically and socially. Lastly, there are large amounts of discovered and potential oil and natural gas near the Paracels and Spratlys islands. However, since 2009, the South China Sea has been embroiled in a conflict over conflicting territorial claims. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam all have made overlapping claims on the Paracel and Spratly islands, within the South China Sea, roughly based on the UNCLS. However, China has submitted a claim which encompasses almost the entire sea. This conflict has quickly progressed from a relatively unknown and unimportant dispute to one that provoked consternation in leading U.S. Senators causing them to write a public letter addressing the issue. The major concern of the Senators was China’s increased aggression in the conflict since 2009 and an increased possibility of armed conflict. The South China Sea territorial disputes have led to periodic conflict throughout the 20th century. However, ever since the conflict started up again in 2009, there have only been incidents between China and the other claimant states and not between the other claimant states. Furthermore, China has taken increasingly aggressive actions in the sea including ramming fishing boats, cutting oil rigs’ cables, interfering with U.S. Naval activity, effectively besieging a Philippine occupied reef, and trying to institute a de facto administration over the sea. Most importantly, China has been building artificial islands over reefs which support a 3300 meter long runway and a harbor deep enough for most naval vessels to access. Why China has become more aggressive in the sea is debatable but what is clear is that China’s behavior has changed since 2009. The end result of these changes are that the claimants are becoming more willing to use their military assets while the Sea is growing more and more militarized. As a result, the chance that the dispute can be resolved diplomatically is falling while the chance that armed conflict will break out again is rising. What has not changed is the cyclical nature of the conflict. Even if tensions do fade, the problem has not disappeared and unless resolved, the dispute will merely start where it let off.
Extent: 112 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2016

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