Where are South China Sea disputes heading?Posted: 30/10/2012
By Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security
When I spoke at Chatham House last week on the topic of the South China Sea (above from 3:28 mins), I attempted to outline military procurement developments in the region. Certainly, if one were to view just the purchases of arms around the sea, the obvious conclusion would be that littoral states and their allies were preparing for conflict. But perhaps more importantly, I also highlighted the symbolic aspect of the use of maritime paramilitaries. By sending unarmed vessels, countries such as China are not just reinforcing their claims to sovereignty, but avoiding any possible military escalation that would be beyond the control and goals of the politicians back home.
This factor makes it likely that conflict can be avoided, and avenues of diplomacy remain open. Certainly, Southeast Asian nations appear keen to pursue negotiation to reach an acceptable conclusion to the dispute, perhaps seeing the current situation as a window of opportunity before China becomes too powerful. Whether they succeed in reaching an agreement to lessen tension in time is the question that remains unanswered.