Neorealism stresses the importance of the
structural properties of the international system, especially the distribution
of power, in shaping conflict and order; thereby downplaying the impact of
human nature (emphasized by Classical Realists) or domestic politics in
international relations. More recently, debates have revealed differences
between offensive realists and defensive realists. Offensive realists, such as John Mearsheimer (year), argue that states are power
maximisers: going for all they can get with hegemony as their ultimate goal.
Defensive realists, such as Charles Glaser, maintain that states are generally
satisfied with the status quo if their own security is not challenged, and thus
they concentrate on maintaining the balance of power (Glaser
2011). The South China Sea Disputes is a very timely
and critical issue in the Southeast Asian region because it involves member
states claiming for different territories in the South China Sea. Six countries lay overlapping claims to the East and South China
Seas, an area that is rich in hydrocarbons and natural gas and through which
trillions of dollars of global trade flow. Brunei,
China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have competing, in some
cases overlapping, claims (Forbes). China has a dilemma on how to preserve a
balance between defending its sovereignty and other maritime interests in the
SCS and similarly upholding a peaceful and stable relationship with Southeast
Asian countries. China does focus a great deal on developing good neighbourhood
relations and is increasingly focusing on soft power. However, China’s soft
power approach concerning the SCS is mixed with a constant military presence to
support its claims (source) Due to bilateral
tensions between some claimant states, dialogue between the various claimants
has been unsuccessful to make significant progress. These developments are
worsened by political realities in Asia; territorial integrity and national
sovereignty; and the region’s rising energy consumption which is increasing the
economic and strategic value of resource rich maritime areas. (source)Several issues surrounding the dispute
resolution have already studied by scholars, including the factors of absence
of united stand of the contending states or the ASEAN against China, the
noncooperative behaviour of the parties, adherence to the ‘ASEAN Way’,
interventions of other state and non-state actors, sovereignty issues, and the
like. Hence, it will be worthwhile to examine these factors affecting the
success of the negotiations regarding the South China Sea dispute. Among the
factors being considered by scholars on what affects the success of the
territorial dispute resolution in the South China Sea, the ‘ASEAN Way’,
pertains to the principle adhered by ASEAN member states which favours
consensus over confrontation, conviviality over candour and process over
substance. Over the years, ASEAN considers the ‘ASEAN Way’ as a successful
mechanism in preventing tensions from escalating in the region, for keeping the
member states diplomatic in terms of dealing with issues of regional concern.
The legacy of the ASEAN Way is not only credited to political and security
issues but its ability to help its member states to improve its relationship
with one another also helps improve the economic situation of the region as a
whole. However, the ‘ASEAN Way’ also had reputations on being a hindrance to
the different attempts of the association to intervene in internal affairs of
its member states. This mostly includes natural disasters and non-traditional
security issues, such as disaster risk reduction and management, typhoons, rice
shortage, agricultural problems and the like. Because of the principle of
non-intervention, any other member state or ASEAN itself, though having the
sincerest intention of reaching out to member states in need, cannot easily
intervene.BODY: Defensive realists like
Kenneth Waltz (1979) maintain that it is
unwise for states to try to maximize their share of world power, because the
system will punish them if they attempt to gain too much power. The pursuit
of 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 much
power as possible and, if the circumstances are right, to pursue hegemony. The
argument is not that conquest or domination is good in itself, but instead that
having overwhelming power is the best way to ensure one’s own survival. For
classical realists, power is an end in itself; for structural realists, power
is a means to an end and the ultimate end is survival. Offensive realists argue
that states should always be looking for opportunities to gain more power and
should do so whenever it seems feasible. States should maximize power, and
their ultimate goal should be hegemony, because that is the best way to
guarantee survival. While defensive realists recognize that the international
system creates strong incentives to gain additional increments of power, they
maintain that it is strategically foolish to pursue hegemony. That would amount
to overexpansion of the worst kind. States, by their account, should not
maximize power, but should instead strive for what Kenneth
Waltz 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, balancing
will occur. Specifically, the other great powers will build up their militaries
and form a balancing coalition that will leave the aspiring hegemon at least
less secure, and maybe even destroy it. The main feature added to realism in
neo-realism is that it includes economic matters. The assumption that the
international community is anarchic is also given a lot more weight than in
classical realism. The international community is said to be anarchic in that
there is no central authority and the international structure is decentralized.
States are therefore in constant competition. Neo-realists therefore shift the
blame partly from human nature and place the responsibility on the
international structure.16 Although they admit that cooperation in the
international community is possible, they still emphasize that there is little
room for it. Neo-realists see states in a constant power struggle for relative
gains. Competition for relative gains, or engagement in a zero-sum game, are
typical patterns of behaviour of states that are constantly seeking to maximize
their own gains to become more powerful than others, and sometimes even at the
expense of other states. The states are therefore always thinking that when
engaging in cooperation they need to be sure that they are the major benefactor
of that cooperation.17 One state’s win means a loss for the other states since
the gaining state becomes more powerful, possibly shifting the balance of power
and giving that state the chance to use that power to gain even more power at
the expense of other states. Neo-realists, like classical realists, believe
deterrence, or a balance of power, is more effective in peacekeeping than
international organizations. An important factor to be considered in the
South China Sea Disputes is the rise of China as a potential hegemon in the
Southeast Asian region. The rise of China has been considered an international
issue worthy of discussion, but another important event involving China is the
territorial and maritime disputes in South China Sea because it involves
several contending states such as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and
Vietnam. As the conflicting claims concern territorial
sovereignty, the SCS has vital internal dimensions such as national prestige
and identity. A particular reason for the competing claims is the economic
significance of the SCS, which is believed to be rich in oil, gas, and
sea?based minerals (Rosenberg 2009). Moreover,
the area is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world (Zou 2009). The significance of access to fishing
waters 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 given
China’s present mixture of fish consumption and shortage of agricultural land.
There are obvious potentials for joint development and joint managing regimes
to make the most of the resources, but the many overlapping maritime claims to
sovereignty create barriers. Furthermore, there is a shortage of consensus
among the various claimants vis?à?vis the historical aspects of the
disagreement. Indeed, the claimants refer to their own historical doctrines as
a justification for their own claims. John
Mearsheimer (2001) applies his offensive Realism theory to Asia by
arguing that China, like all great powers prior to, will unavoidably seek
regional hegemonic authority, and that the “structural asymmetry” between the
rising power and the existing leading power will characterize the Asian order and
inevitably cause great power war, if not the existing leading power takes pre?
emptive action. Both Mearsheimer and Kagan believe that the only doable option
to prevent conflict with China is to pre?emptively contain it. In contrast, Amitav Acharya (2004) rejects the applicability of
realist paradigms and argues that Asia is experiencing the appearance of
collective norms about interstate relations rooted in the “ASEAN Way” (Acharya 2004).  In terms of hard power, it can be argued that
US military power guarantee that developing conflicts or disputes in Southeast
Asia do not escalate into military conflicts. For example, it is partly the US
alliance with Japan that assures Japan against potential military encounters
with China, while on the other hand simultaneously reassuring China against the
prospect that Japan may once again develop into an independent regional
military power able to intimidate China and Chinese interests in the region.
Likewise, it is the insurances provided by US naval power that has smoothed the
progress of the commitment of China by Southeast Asian states, who as a
consequence 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 the
two major powers of the region. One important effect of the perception of the
US as a safeguard against a rising China is that it has given rise to a sense
of security within ASEAN, which has created more space for ASEAN to
constructively engage China, as the feeling of security has limited the anxiety
of becoming more dependent on China. It has also been valuable for China in its
efforts to engage the ASEAN states without generating further anxiety about its
intentions (Simon 2008). There is no
question about US military superiority, but as the US interest arguably is
restricted to the continuation of the status quo in the region, its involvement
can only be expected in acute situations. Indeed, in the case of the SCS, the
US has not recognized any of the claims of the various states, and there are no
commitments beyond a possible intervention, if the situation in the SCS would
jeopardize the freedom of navigation of the SLOCs. Furthermore, the US is
reluctant to get involved further than conflict prevention, and it has done
little to resolve the underlying issues The South China Sea Disputes, being one of the
most pressing issues faced by ASEAN, created an impression on how the world see
ASEAN from the outside. Some of them say ASEAN is a failure in not being able
to come up with a single stand on issues like the South China Sea territorial
disputes, for not being able to intervene in the internal affairs of the states
because at the same time the principle of non-intervention is very important to
ASEAN states, and for not being able to integrate the member states in any
common concerns because national interests still prevail. Limaye (2015) used
the ‘eye of the beholder’ approach on how ASEAN itself views the issue on the
South China Sea, because how the outsiders see ASEAN is not the same thing how
the Association sees itself. The approach argues that “there are several
reasons to question why the SCS disputes should be considered “central” to ASEAN
or that ASEAN should have a unified position on the disputes”. ASEAN’s failure
to issue a joint communique in 2012 for a single stand on the South China Sea
Disputes is considered by others a failure of ASEAN itself, however it has to
be considered that the South China Sea Disputes is a developing issue and that
ASEAN also has to deal with its developments. Moreover, it does not reflect
that the South China Sea Disputes is not in the forefront of the ASEAN regional
interest. The issue on South China Sea then creates an impression to the ASEAN
about its failure to create a community amongst its members in the context of
how they treat the issue on the South China Sea. Baviera provided an analysis of the future of
the ASEAN China relations with regards to the South China Sea dispute given the
entry of the US in the issue, stating that China’s aggression over the
expansion of its territory by claiming sovereignty over islands in the South
China Sea is a threat to the US naval supremacy, and that US only worsened the
problems in the area. Given that, it can be asserted that the author was able
to emphasize the importance of the role of international state and non-state
actors (the US and ASEAN) in resolving regional disputes. Limaye (2015) has criticized ASEAN for having
the paradox of “if one has big ambitions (a community) for ASEAN, then unity on
the SCS is a logical ultimate goal, but the least of ASEAN’s problems; if one
has minimal goals for ASEAN (a shared voice and cooperation) then unity on the
sea does not much matter but does detract in a more visible way”. This indeed
contradicts the goals of the ASEAN of having a community and at the same time
not 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 Sea
Disputes, 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 a
mechanism in resolving the South China Sea disputes; and those who consider the
ASEAN Way as a mechanism see it as lacking. The International Crisis Group
(2015) however sees a light in the multilateral manner of resolving the
disputes, mentioning that “Beijing has softened its resistance to multilateral
approaches and verbally endorses ASEAN’s lead role in managing and maintaining
peace and stability in the South China Sea at least in preventing open warfare
in the region – even if it does so mainly to block U.S. influence and rein in
the Philippines.” Even if the motivation behind giving in to multilateralism is
not 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 China
Sea, expressing a sign of cooperation with the ASEAN.  CONCLUSION:There are signs of Chinese assertiveness, but
there is no sign that China is taking the risk of sacrificing its domestic
economic growth by taking a coercive approach in the SCS disputes. China will
for sure play a central role, whether there will be war or cooperation in the
SCS. As its maritime economic interests such as resources, naval power and law
enforcement capabilities grow; China is to be expected more assertive in the
coming years. But at the same time, the CCP leadership recognizes that it has
other even more vital strategic and political interests to take into
consideration, therefore, the demonstration and growth of Chinese assertiveness
will likely be incremental and limited. Chinese assertive actions do, and will
most likely doubt continue to raise anxiety in Southeast Asian states and
encourage countermeasures on the part of these regional states, perhaps with
implicit or explicit support from external powers such as the US. On the other
hand, given China’s strategic concerns in East Asia and the CCP’s first and
foremost priority of domestic economic development, China will most likely seek
to flex its muscles in a limited way and avoid any dramatic acceleration of its
maritime 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 not
viable to anticipate any final solution in the foreseeable future. Any action
by one party, whether it is symbolic acts to show a powerful authority or to
exploit the islands or waters for economic purposes, has at all times resulted
in a strong diplomatic response from other parties. The repeated frictions,
however, cannot obscure the fact that the various claimant states have managed
the disputes for the last 15 years fairly well. Fortunately, political leaders
have recognized the costs and risks of escalating the disputes and have opted
for ways to uphold the overall stability in the region. Ultimately, political
decision makers will have to realise that no country has a perfect claim in the
SCS, and that they, therefore, need to compromise for the chance of a code of
conduct to be realised.The US has had an important role in creating a
sense of security in Southeast Asia, thereby, making room for the ASEAN states
to engage China and vice versa. With the exception of the SCS in the 1990s and
in a minor degree events since 2009, the relations between the disputed parties
have been at a level, where their actions have not endangered US interests and
the possibility for US interference, whether that will continue, or other
claimant states will use a US alliance to be more assertive, is still to be
seen. As a consequence of China’s efforts in handling disputes over maritime
boundaries with other claimant states, while supporting its interests in the
region, has shown some Chinese flexibility by suggesting stopping the disputes
and work for joint development, as China has done with Vietnam and the
Philippines. Attaching increased weight on good neighbourhood relations and at
the same time maintaining its claims in the SCS, China applies an approach to
power and influence as foreign policy means, which is intended both at tackling
other states’ anxiety about the impact of a more powerful China and reinforcing
China’s long-term position.In the last several months, a number of
episodes, which emphasize what, appear to be an increasing readiness on the
part of China to use its enlarged military power to pressure and persuade other
claimants (predominantly the Philippines and Vietnam) in the disputed SCS have
taken place. China and ASEAN claimants are both searching for regional
stability, but sending more warships into the SCS does not produce a stable
environment for dialogue. Given the recent developments in creating a tense
atmosphere in the SCS, there is a necessity for the various claimants to pursue
discussions. The claimants each wish to exercise sovereign rights and to be
present in the SCS and, at the same time, find a solution to their disputes
through dialogue. For that to happen, they ought to look at the subject from
each other’s viewpoint; here a Chinese clarification of its maritime claims
would 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 US
back to the negotiation table (Chen 2011). The
other claimant states to the SCS, singlehandedly or collectively, cannot equal
Chinese naval power; therefore, they try to resolve maritime disputes with
China on a multilateral basis. China maintains that territorial disputes ought
to be settled by the states directly involved. China is against multilateral
negotiations, because territorial disputes in the SCS are not an issue
involving 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 broader
issues that have to do with stability and security in the SCS. It would be
desirable, for the stability of the region, for the claimants to agree on a
code of conduct that is in particular committed to the prevention of armed
conflict in the disputed areas. China’s interests in the SCS, as well as
everyone else’s, will need to be dealt with through dialogue and negotiation. A
more practical and realistic approach would most likely engage increased
cooperation among the claimants in all areas, although, there have been several
episodes of conflict escalation between claimant states (even among ASEAN
states) in spite of growing economic interdependence. A way out of the present
deadlock may be a cooperative management regime, where elements such as
development of oil and gas resources, fishing administration, marine
protection, law and order at sea, marine scientific studies, and preservation and
protection of the marine environment are included. An obstacle to such an
approach involves dialogue, negotiation, and a lot of compromise; because the
claimants to the various islands and reefs in the SCS all assert their own
claims as legal and valid.     


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