7: Competition, Contention, and Cooperation in the South China Sea: The Malaysian Perspective


The South China Sea (SCS) is one of the most geostrategically contested maritime spaces. The long-standing overlapping territorial disputes among claimants including Brunei, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam are complicated by the added element of US-Sino relations and their respective policies and strategies. China’s emergence as a major economic power, the growth in military spending by Asian countries led by China, and the increasing attention by European nations in the SCS present a volatile mix that provides opportunities as well as posing threats to be negotiated. The almost 4 million square kilometres of the SCS provides regional states and the international community with a strategically important maritime highway for the transportation of goods and energy supplies, and forms a critical link between trading hubs and ports in Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia.1 The SCS figures prominently as a link in the management of the world’s energy supply network of marine routes that facilitate the economic, commercial, and strategic interests of many nations.2

Apart from shipping, the SCS also forms a large portion of the area where international communication traffic is routed to facilitate commerce and other activities so essential for the world today. The use of the sea for these purposes must be well managed to check any untoward impact on the environment, marine biodiversity, and ecosystems. There is much need for prudent conservation and protection of these systems to ensure sustainable management and use of the sea and its resources.

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