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: Cambodia is in desperate need of China for economic benefits and China is in need of Cambodia for geostrategic and geopolitical interests. In an op-ed on “Kingdom Should Be Wary of EBA Loss,” the authors caution about Cambodia’s pursuance of the foreign policy of putting all its eggs in one basket with China, that: Hun Sen may think he has China’s Xi Jinping to turn to for help, especially in time of economic or legitimacy crisis; however, Hun Sen should not forget that China supports Cambodia because the two countries are in a reciprocal relationship. The reciprocity of

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Defence White Paper for the first time noted China’s rise as the “strongest Asian military power” and that “the pace, scope and structure of China’s military modernisation have the potential to give its neighbours cause for concern if not carefully explained.” 4 The 2013 Defence White Paper extended Australia’s geopolitical interests to the Indo-Pacific and adjusted Australia’s priority strategic focus to the “arc extending from India though Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia, including the sea lines of communication on which the region depends.” 5 The 2016 Defence

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Cross-National Perspectives

This volume brings together international experts to provide fresh perspectives on geopolitical concerns in the South China Sea.

The book considers the interests and security strategies of each of the nations with a claim to ownership and jurisdiction in the Sea. Examining contexts including the region’s natural resources and China’s behaviour, the book also assesses the motivations and approaches of other states in Asia and further afield.

This is an accessible, even-handed and comprehensive examination of current and future rivalries and challenges in one of the most strategically important and militarized maritime regions of the world.

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The South China Sea (SCS) has become the setting of one of the most intensive territorial and resource disputes in history. A myriad of small and medium states, together with the two greatest economic and military powers in the contemporary period, have laid claim to and contest states’ alternative claims to large sections of the SCS. China, as a revisionist power, has made the most sweeping claim of all states, designating nearly the entire sea as its own. In addition to its extensive resources, the SCS is a vital strategic waterway and a strategic locale critical for future power projection by existing great and rising powers. This chapter unpacks the central components of the conflict in the SCS that has been steadily intensifying since states began staking claims over islands and zones within the SCS in the 1970s. In doing so, we refer to the SCS as a “system of systems” involving multi-dimensional security overlay based on political, economic, and military interests as well as power projections. We argue that the central challenge facing would-be defenders of the status quo is their decentralized organization, with the US, the Philippines, and Vietnam intersecting in various subsystems though not forming a cohesive cooperative security system with a unified, cohesive purpose. Concurrently, China has seen much more success in marshalling a coherent, focused (Sinocentrist) stratagem for its salami-slicing approach in the region, much to the detriment of the region’s status quo actors, even in spite of internal competition and rivalry regarding China’s grand strategy and geopolitical trajectory as a state.

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The South China Sea (SCS) has long been one of the primary security interests of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC, hereafter China).1 As early as 1958, through its “Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s Territorial Sea,” China claimed parts of the SCS through the infamous nine-dash line.2 Throughout the ensuing decades, mostly minor hostilities occurred and China was unable to increase its power in the waters significantly. Instead, the SCS was something of a phoney, mainly diplomatic, conflict that only occasionally turned violent. The region featured conflicts based on limited escalation, though with significant pressure-potential for all actors engaged. However, over the past decade-and-a-half, foremost under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China has sought to abandon Deng’s mantle of “hiding its strength and biding its time.” China has, in the SCS at least, since 2009 when it declared its sovereignty over the seas, embarked on a tour de force, seeking political, economic, and military control over the strategic waterway.3 China has been sought to achieve these goals almost entirely through the application “salami-slicing.” Now widely applied by the Chinese military, paramilitary, and civil actors, salami-slicing is a “strategy that employs a series of incremental actions, none of which by itself is a casus belli, to gradually change the status quo in China’s favor.”4 The SCS has remained a hotbed of this strategy and can be considered one, if not the core, area in which China has employed this approach the longest, most consistently, and efficiently.

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The South China Sea (SCS) is at the strategic crossroads connecting Northeast and Southeast Asia on one hand and the Pacific and the Indian Ocean on the other. China is one of the countries bordering the SCS. China also claims sovereignty over four archipelagos in the SCS, including the Spratlys and Paracels (which China refers to as the Nansha and Xisha Islands respectively). Some of the claims are currently contested to different extents by other coastal states of the SCS.

According to official statistics from China, a total of 42 Spratly features have been successively occupied by other countries.1 In January 1974, as the result of a military clash at sea, China gained effective control over the entirety of the Paracels by defeating South Vietnamese troops stationed on some of the features. In March 1988, China again took control of six features of the Spratlys after a naval conflict with Vietnam. In 1994, China built facilities on Mischief Reef (Meiji Jiao) of the Spratlys, followed by protests from the Philippines.

With regard to China’s maritime rights and jurisdiction in the SCS, China claims that, under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it is entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf in this area, where China also claims historical rights. China’s maritime claims in the SCS also overlap with those of other coastal states.

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In January 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, the candidate for the Democratic Progress Party (DPP), won in Taiwan’s presidential election and was inaugurated as the 14th-term president of the Republic of China (“ROC”) in May of the same year. The new Tsai government adopted a foreign policy position of “cutting off Mainland China, following the United States [US] and Japan, and catering to ASEAN,”1 which affects the planning and development of Taiwan’s South China Sea (SCS) policy under the Tsai administration. In July 2016, Taiwan announced that the award rendered by the Tribunal that heard the Philippines v. China SCS arbitration case is completely unacceptable because, inter alia, in the award, the ROC is referred to as the “Taiwan Authority of China.”2

On July 19, 2016, President Tsai put forth four principles and five actions pertaining to the SCS issues. One of the policy principles is concerned about the obligation to uphold the freedom of navigation and overflight in the SCS region, which is also one of the main policy concerns of the US government.3 In January 2019, asked by The Sunday Telegraph if she would support a British presence in the SCS, President Tsai signalled that Taiwan would welcome: “any actions that will be helpful towards maintaining peace in the SCS, as well as maintaining freedom of passage.”4 The Tsai government is also taking actions to promote closer Taiwan–Japan security cooperation in line with the development of the US Indo-Pacific strategy.

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Vietnam is a coastal state and a disputing party in the South China Sea (SCS), which is called the East Sea in Vietnam due to its location vis-à-vis its mainland.1 Within the framework of this chapter, these two terms are used interchangeably. There, Vietnam claims sovereignty over the land features in the Paracels and Spratlys, and over a suite of maritime zones as stipulated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which overlap wholly and partly with those of its neighbours. The country has been well-known as one of the claimants which has stood firmly in a series of stand-offs with its giant neighbour, China. It is a big puzzle for many why Hanoi would risk antagonizing Beijing, its most important neighbour, for a bunch of remote, barren and tiny features in the middle of the sea and for the waters off its coast. This chapter builds on the existing literature of Vietnam’s maritime activities and its statecraft to map and identify the importance of the East Sea in the Vietnamese perspective throughout the course of history. It should be noted that the SCS and the offshore islets have not only been incorporated into Vietnam’s political geography since at least the 17th century but also into its strategic thinking. In other words, the sea and islands serve as a layer of defence that increases the country’s strategic depth.

Vietnam’s strategic thinking is conditioned by history and geography. The combination of the asymmetry of power and geographical proximity created a permanent concern among Vietnamese political elites about the Northern threat.

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When President Rodrigo Roa Duterte visited China for the fifth time on August 28 to September 1, 2019, the United States (US) Navy had conducted more Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in 2019 than in any year during the same period, to challenge China’s position in the South China Sea (SCS). Duterte’s fifth visit to China provided him with opportunities to meet President Xi Jinping for the eighth time, amid increasing US–China rivalry in the SCS.

Duterte set a historic record for having the most meetings by a Filipino president with a Chinese counterpart during a mid-term in office, notwithstanding Manila’s long-time security alliance with the US. Duterte’s visits to China strongly demonstrated his ardent commitment to befriend and comprehensively engage with China on many pragmatic economic and political considerations, with a high expectation that this kind of appeasement could lead to the peaceful management of disputes in the SCS, a vital issue touching the core of Philippine national security interest.

One important outcome of Duterte’s 2019 visit to China was the landmark implementation of the November 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into by the Philippines and China to facilitate their joint cooperation on the development of oil and gas resources in the SCS, particularly in areas being claimed by the Philippines called the West Philippine Sea (WPS), located mainly in the Spratlys. The Philippines and China agreed to move to the next step of joint cooperation by creating steering committees tasked to supervise the process.

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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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