INTRO:Neorealism stresses the importance of thestructural properties of the international system, especially the distributionof power, in shaping conflict and order; thereby downplaying the impact ofhuman nature (emphasized by Classical Realists) or domestic politics ininternational relations. More recently, debates have revealed differencesbetween offensive realists and defensive realists. Offensive realists, such as John Mearsheimer (year), argue that states are powermaximisers: going for all they can get with hegemony as their ultimate goal.Defensive realists, such as Charles Glaser, maintain that states are generallysatisfied with the status quo if their own security is not challenged, and thusthey concentrate on maintaining the balance of power (Glaser2011).
The South China Sea Disputes is a very timelyand critical issue in the Southeast Asian region because it involves memberstates claiming for different territories in the South China Sea. Six countries lay overlapping claims to the East and South ChinaSeas, an area that is rich in hydrocarbons and natural gas and through whichtrillions of dollars of global trade flow. Brunei,China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have competing, in somecases overlapping, claims (Forbes). China has a dilemma on how to preserve abalance between defending its sovereignty and other maritime interests in theSCS and similarly upholding a peaceful and stable relationship with SoutheastAsian countries. China does focus a great deal on developing good neighbourhoodrelations and is increasingly focusing on soft power. However, China’s softpower approach concerning the SCS is mixed with a constant military presence tosupport its claims (source) Due to bilateraltensions between some claimant states, dialogue between the various claimantshas been unsuccessful to make significant progress. These developments areworsened by political realities in Asia; territorial integrity and nationalsovereignty; and the region’s rising energy consumption which is increasing theeconomic and strategic value of resource rich maritime areas.
(source)Several issues surrounding the disputeresolution have already studied by scholars, including the factors of absenceof united stand of the contending states or the ASEAN against China, thenoncooperative behaviour of the parties, adherence to the ‘ASEAN Way’,interventions of other state and non-state actors, sovereignty issues, and thelike. Hence, it will be worthwhile to examine these factors affecting thesuccess of the negotiations regarding the South China Sea dispute. Among thefactors being considered by scholars on what affects the success of theterritorial dispute resolution in the South China Sea, the ‘ASEAN Way’,pertains to the principle adhered by ASEAN member states which favoursconsensus over confrontation, conviviality over candour and process oversubstance.
Over the years, ASEAN considers the ‘ASEAN Way’ as a successfulmechanism in preventing tensions from escalating in the region, for keeping themember states diplomatic in terms of dealing with issues of regional concern.The legacy of the ASEAN Way is not only credited to political and securityissues but its ability to help its member states to improve its relationshipwith one another also helps improve the economic situation of the region as awhole. However, the ‘ASEAN Way’ also had reputations on being a hindrance tothe different attempts of the association to intervene in internal affairs ofits member states. This mostly includes natural disasters and non-traditionalsecurity issues, such as disaster risk reduction and management, typhoons, riceshortage, agricultural problems and the like. Because of the principle ofnon-intervention, any other member state or ASEAN itself, though having thesincerest intention of reaching out to member states in need, cannot easilyintervene.
BODY: Defensive realists likeKenneth Waltz (1979) maintain that it isunwise for states to try to maximize their share of world power, because thesystem will punish them if they attempt to gain too much power. The pursuitof hegemony, they argue, is especially foolhardy. Offensive realists like John Mearsheimer (2001) take the opposite view;they maintain that it makes good strategic sense for states to gain as muchpower as possible and, if the circumstances are right, to pursue hegemony. Theargument is not that conquest or domination is good in itself, but instead thathaving overwhelming power is the best way to ensure one’s own survival. Forclassical realists, power is an end in itself; for structural realists, poweris a means to an end and the ultimate end is survival. Offensive realists arguethat states should always be looking for opportunities to gain more power andshould do so whenever it seems feasible. States should maximize power, andtheir ultimate goal should be hegemony, because that is the best way toguarantee survival.
While defensive realists recognize that the internationalsystem creates strong incentives to gain additional increments of power, theymaintain that it is strategically foolish to pursue hegemony. That would amountto overexpansion of the worst kind. States, by their account, should notmaximize power, but should instead strive for what KennethWaltz calls an ‘appropriate amount of power'(1979: 40). This restraint is largely the result of three factors.Defensive realists emphasize that if any state becomes too powerful, balancingwill occur. Specifically, the other great powers will build up their militariesand form a balancing coalition that will leave the aspiring hegemon at leastless secure, and maybe even destroy it. The main feature added to realism inneo-realism is that it includes economic matters.
The assumption that theinternational community is anarchic is also given a lot more weight than inclassical realism. The international community is said to be anarchic in thatthere is no central authority and the international structure is decentralized.States are therefore in constant competition. Neo-realists therefore shift theblame partly from human nature and place the responsibility on theinternational structure.16 Although they admit that cooperation in theinternational community is possible, they still emphasize that there is littleroom for it. Neo-realists see states in a constant power struggle for relativegains. Competition for relative gains, or engagement in a zero-sum game, aretypical patterns of behaviour of states that are constantly seeking to maximizetheir own gains to become more powerful than others, and sometimes even at theexpense of other states.
The states are therefore always thinking that whenengaging in cooperation they need to be sure that they are the major benefactorof that cooperation.17 One state’s win means a loss for the other states sincethe gaining state becomes more powerful, possibly shifting the balance of powerand giving that state the chance to use that power to gain even more power atthe expense of other states. Neo-realists, like classical realists, believedeterrence, or a balance of power, is more effective in peacekeeping thaninternational organizations. An important factor to be considered in theSouth China Sea Disputes is the rise of China as a potential hegemon in theSoutheast Asian region. The rise of China has been considered an internationalissue worthy of discussion, but another important event involving China is theterritorial and maritime disputes in South China Sea because it involvesseveral contending states such as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines andVietnam.
As the conflicting claims concern territorialsovereignty, the SCS has vital internal dimensions such as national prestigeand identity. A particular reason for the competing claims is the economicsignificance of the SCS, which is believed to be rich in oil, gas, andsea?based minerals (Rosenberg 2009). Moreover,the area is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world (Zou 2009). The significance of access to fishingwaters has grown for the countries to meet the likely increase in food demands.In China where fish likely will become more important in the future givenChina’s present mixture of fish consumption and shortage of agricultural land.There are obvious potentials for joint development and joint managing regimesto make the most of the resources, but the many overlapping maritime claims tosovereignty create barriers. Furthermore, there is a shortage of consensusamong the various claimants vis?à?vis the historical aspects of thedisagreement.
Indeed, the claimants refer to their own historical doctrines asa justification for their own claims. JohnMearsheimer (2001) applies his offensive Realism theory to Asia byarguing that China, like all great powers prior to, will unavoidably seekregional hegemonic authority, and that the “structural asymmetry” between therising power and the existing leading power will characterize the Asian order andinevitably cause great power war, if not the existing leading power takes pre?emptive action. Both Mearsheimer and Kagan believe that the only doable optionto prevent conflict with China is to pre?emptively contain it. In contrast, Amitav Acharya (2004) rejects the applicability ofrealist paradigms and argues that Asia is experiencing the appearance ofcollective norms about interstate relations rooted in the “ASEAN Way” (Acharya 2004). In terms of hard power, it can be argued thatUS military power guarantee that developing conflicts or disputes in SoutheastAsia do not escalate into military conflicts. For example, it is partly the USalliance with Japan that assures Japan against potential military encounterswith China, while on the other hand simultaneously reassuring China against theprospect that Japan may once again develop into an independent regionalmilitary power able to intimidate China and Chinese interests in the region.
Likewise, it is the insurances provided by US naval power that has smoothed theprogress of the commitment of China by Southeast Asian states, who as aconsequence are less anxious of being embraced too closely by China. The US,which maintains relatively good working relations with both China and Japan,is, in effect, the guarantor of strategic stability in the rivalry between thetwo major powers of the region. One important effect of the perception of theUS as a safeguard against a rising China is that it has given rise to a senseof security within ASEAN, which has created more space for ASEAN toconstructively engage China, as the feeling of security has limited the anxietyof becoming more dependent on China. It has also been valuable for China in itsefforts to engage the ASEAN states without generating further anxiety about itsintentions (Simon 2008). There is noquestion about US military superiority, but as the US interest arguably isrestricted to the continuation of the status quo in the region, its involvementcan only be expected in acute situations.
Indeed, in the case of the SCS, theUS has not recognized any of the claims of the various states, and there are nocommitments beyond a possible intervention, if the situation in the SCS wouldjeopardize the freedom of navigation of the SLOCs. Furthermore, the US isreluctant to get involved further than conflict prevention, and it has donelittle to resolve the underlying issues The South China Sea Disputes, being one of themost pressing issues faced by ASEAN, created an impression on how the world seeASEAN from the outside. Some of them say ASEAN is a failure in not being ableto come up with a single stand on issues like the South China Sea territorialdisputes, for not being able to intervene in the internal affairs of the statesbecause at the same time the principle of non-intervention is very important toASEAN states, and for not being able to integrate the member states in anycommon concerns because national interests still prevail. Limaye (2015) usedthe ‘eye of the beholder’ approach on how ASEAN itself views the issue on theSouth China Sea, because how the outsiders see ASEAN is not the same thing howthe Association sees itself. The approach argues that “there are severalreasons to question why the SCS disputes should be considered “central” to ASEANor that ASEAN should have a unified position on the disputes”.
ASEAN’s failureto issue a joint communique in 2012 for a single stand on the South China SeaDisputes is considered by others a failure of ASEAN itself, however it has tobe considered that the South China Sea Disputes is a developing issue and thatASEAN also has to deal with its developments. Moreover, it does not reflectthat the South China Sea Disputes is not in the forefront of the ASEAN regionalinterest. The issue on South China Sea then creates an impression to the ASEANabout its failure to create a community amongst its members in the context ofhow they treat the issue on the South China Sea. Baviera provided an analysis of the future ofthe ASEAN China relations with regards to the South China Sea dispute given theentry of the US in the issue, stating that China’s aggression over theexpansion of its territory by claiming sovereignty over islands in the SouthChina Sea is a threat to the US naval supremacy, and that US only worsened theproblems in the area. Given that, it can be asserted that the author was ableto emphasize the importance of the role of international state and non-stateactors (the US and ASEAN) in resolving regional disputes.
Limaye (2015) has criticized ASEAN for havingthe paradox of “if one has big ambitions (a community) for ASEAN, then unity onthe SCS is a logical ultimate goal, but the least of ASEAN’s problems; if onehas minimal goals for ASEAN (a shared voice and cooperation) then unity on thesea does not much matter but does detract in a more visible way”. This indeedcontradicts the goals of the ASEAN of having a community and at the same timenot being able to properly deal with issues that require them to be a community.The ASEAN Way, in short, is not helping out not only in South China SeaDisputes, but in the regional community-building as a whole. On the other hand,there are scholars who claim that the ASEAN Way cannot even be considered amechanism in resolving the South China Sea disputes; and those who consider theASEAN Way as a mechanism see it as lacking.
The International Crisis Group(2015) however sees a light in the multilateral manner of resolving thedisputes, mentioning that “Beijing has softened its resistance to multilateralapproaches and verbally endorses ASEAN’s lead role in managing and maintainingpeace and stability in the South China Sea at least in preventing open warfarein the region – even if it does so mainly to block U.S. influence and rein inthe Philippines.” Even if the motivation behind giving in to multilateralism isnot directed towards ASEAN but more on resisting US supremacy in the region,this is still considered a development in the ASEAN Way of resolving disputes.Also, China expressed being open with the Code of Conduct for the South ChinaSea, expressing a sign of cooperation with the ASEAN.
CONCLUSION:There are signs of Chinese assertiveness, butthere is no sign that China is taking the risk of sacrificing its domesticeconomic growth by taking a coercive approach in the SCS disputes. China willfor sure play a central role, whether there will be war or cooperation in theSCS. As its maritime economic interests such as resources, naval power and lawenforcement capabilities grow; China is to be expected more assertive in thecoming years.
But at the same time, the CCP leadership recognizes that it hasother even more vital strategic and political interests to take intoconsideration, therefore, the demonstration and growth of Chinese assertivenesswill likely be incremental and limited. Chinese assertive actions do, and willmost likely doubt continue to raise anxiety in Southeast Asian states andencourage countermeasures on the part of these regional states, perhaps withimplicit or explicit support from external powers such as the US. On the otherhand, given China’s strategic concerns in East Asia and the CCP’s first andforemost priority of domestic economic development, China will most likely seekto flex its muscles in a limited way and avoid any dramatic acceleration of itsmaritime disputes in the SCS.The SCS dispute is an awfully complex issue,because of the various claims to the same islands and waters, and it is notviable to anticipate any final solution in the foreseeable future. Any actionby one party, whether it is symbolic acts to show a powerful authority or toexploit the islands or waters for economic purposes, has at all times resultedin a strong diplomatic response from other parties.
The repeated frictions,however, cannot obscure the fact that the various claimant states have managedthe disputes for the last 15 years fairly well. Fortunately, political leadershave recognized the costs and risks of escalating the disputes and have optedfor ways to uphold the overall stability in the region. Ultimately, politicaldecision makers will have to realise that no country has a perfect claim in theSCS, and that they, therefore, need to compromise for the chance of a code ofconduct to be realised.
The US has had an important role in creating asense of security in Southeast Asia, thereby, making room for the ASEAN statesto engage China and vice versa. With the exception of the SCS in the 1990s andin a minor degree events since 2009, the relations between the disputed partieshave been at a level, where their actions have not endangered US interests andthe possibility for US interference, whether that will continue, or otherclaimant states will use a US alliance to be more assertive, is still to beseen. As a consequence of China’s efforts in handling disputes over maritimeboundaries with other claimant states, while supporting its interests in theregion, has shown some Chinese flexibility by suggesting stopping the disputesand work for joint development, as China has done with Vietnam and thePhilippines.
Attaching increased weight on good neighbourhood relations and atthe same time maintaining its claims in the SCS, China applies an approach topower and influence as foreign policy means, which is intended both at tacklingother states’ anxiety about the impact of a more powerful China and reinforcingChina’s long-term position.In the last several months, a number ofepisodes, which emphasize what, appear to be an increasing readiness on thepart of China to use its enlarged military power to pressure and persuade otherclaimants (predominantly the Philippines and Vietnam) in the disputed SCS havetaken place. China and ASEAN claimants are both searching for regionalstability, but sending more warships into the SCS does not produce a stableenvironment for dialogue. Given the recent developments in creating a tenseatmosphere in the SCS, there is a necessity for the various claimants to pursuediscussions. The claimants each wish to exercise sovereign rights and to bepresent in the SCS and, at the same time, find a solution to their disputesthrough dialogue. For that to happen, they ought to look at the subject fromeach other’s viewpoint; here a Chinese clarification of its maritime claimswould be of great help as well as avoiding statements such as “core interest”.The ASEAN claimants need to consider possible consequences of angering China,whom “resents” an internationalization of the disputes, before bringing the USback to the negotiation table (Chen 2011).
Theother claimant states to the SCS, singlehandedly or collectively, cannot equalChinese naval power; therefore, they try to resolve maritime disputes withChina on a multilateral basis. China maintains that territorial disputes oughtto be settled by the states directly involved. China is against multilateralnegotiations, because territorial disputes in the SCS are not an issueinvolving China and ASEAN or even less other outside powers. ASEAN claimants,on the other hand, welcome the involvement of the US and other maritime powers,and they argue that outside powers are rightful stakeholders concerning broaderissues that have to do with stability and security in the SCS. It would bedesirable, for the stability of the region, for the claimants to agree on acode of conduct that is in particular committed to the prevention of armedconflict in the disputed areas. China’s interests in the SCS, as well aseveryone else’s, will need to be dealt with through dialogue and negotiation.
Amore practical and realistic approach would most likely engage increasedcooperation among the claimants in all areas, although, there have been severalepisodes of conflict escalation between claimant states (even among ASEANstates) in spite of growing economic interdependence. A way out of the presentdeadlock may be a cooperative management regime, where elements such asdevelopment of oil and gas resources, fishing administration, marineprotection, law and order at sea, marine scientific studies, and preservation andprotection of the marine environment are included. An obstacle to such anapproach involves dialogue, negotiation, and a lot of compromise; because theclaimants to the various islands and reefs in the SCS all assert their ownclaims as legal and valid.