108 K. Hossain
Geopolitical and maritime interests in and around the South China Sea (SCS)
have created a complex set of claims concerning rights, obligations and jurisdiction
over the sea. The potential for hydrocarbon resources, importance in maritime
well as strategic interests pertaining to balance of power, are the driving forces that
mark the significance of these dynamics. In particular, territorial claims over the
SCS are among the most contested ones in the whole world. By nature, the SCS is a
semi-enclosed sea rich in diverse living and non-living resources. It is located in the
south of China, bordering Vietnam and Malaysia in the west; Brunei, Malaysia, and
Indonesia in the south; the Philippines in the east; and Taiwan in the north. Six of
territorial claims and contestations over the SCS.
While geographically the US is not a part of these territorial disputes, it still has
significant maritime interests in the SCS in terms of both freedom of navigation
and security for maritime trade and transportation. For the US, the SCS, because
the south, also promotes strategic cooperation - both military and economic - with
the nations in the region. In addition, there are other elements directly linked to
US interests in the SCS. These include the protection of the interests of American
companies involved in hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities; the US
is strategically present in the region in order to pre-emptively combats any potential
security threats against its interests,
as well as those of its allies. These factors have
propelled the US to engage itself in the tensions surrounding the SCS disputes.
Primarily, therefore, the objective of this research is to investigate the on-going
competition between the two hegemonic powers—the US and China—over the SCS
within the limited context of the law of the sea. It is important to note that in the
SCS region, geopolitical dynamics, while motivated by numerous facts, are largely
1 J. Burgess, The Politics of the South China Sea: Territoriality and International Law, 34 SECURITY DIALOGUE 8 (2003).
This complexity is grounded on a number of reasons: First, because of the number of parties involved in the disputes
either directly or indirectly; second because of its geo-political and strategic importance; and third because of its
economic resource potential. See L. Bautista, Thinking Outside the Box: The South China Sea Issue and the United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Options, Limitations and Prospects), 81 PHILIPPINE L. J. 707 (2006).
2 After the September 11 attacks that destroyed the twin tower in the US, the dynamics of a new world order push
the US to strengthen its presence in the region in order to act pre-emptively to combat security threats. See “State
of Union” address delivered by the President Bush, Jan. 28, 2002, available at http://whitehouse.georgewbush.org/
news/2003/012803-SOTU.asp (last visited on Apr. 6, 2013).