The South China Sea Disputes

Convergence and Divergence in Perceptions from ASEAN, Australia, and India

[alaya_dropcap]F[/alaya_dropcap]or the last part of the three-part India Studies related workshops, the College of Social Sciences invited Professor Dr. Christopher Roberts, who joined the College of Social Science as a fellow researcher in February and will stay in Taiwan until the end of the year. He is originally from the University of New South Wales in Canberra, where he is the director of the National Asian Security Program. He specializes in the Indo-Pacific region, South-East Asia, and in particular, the ASEAN nations. Living for five years in Japan and Singapore, having two centuries of field experience throughout South-East and East Asia, as well as the publication of over 50 articles and two books focusing on the security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, makes him an expert of South-East and East Asian politics and security.

The discussions about the South China Sea and China’s claims to it is undoubtedly one of the most heated of all areas in the region. Therefore, it is not only of Professor Roberts’ research field, but it was also the topic of his speech. He points out that in recent years Chinese activity in the South China Sea has dramatically increased. China’s claim of the biggest part of the ocean, including all of its resources, 3200 acres of land, as well as the superior strategic position, displeased all of the surrounding countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia, which also have claims to certain parts of the sea, and even some islands. Even though an international tribunal previously decided China was breaking international law and has no historical justifications for a claim of the area, China has declared that it will not recognize the decision, and has since continued to strengthen its grip on the South China Sea by building militarized islands. Professor Roberts argues, that since no major power will intervene to deter Chinese actions, ASEAN states, India, and Australia need to work together in order to curb the growing influence of China. However, mistrust between these states, as well as Chinese influence in other countries may hamper this cooperation. He concludes, that in the short run the damage is already done and that it seems highly unlikely that anything or anyone can make China pull back its actions. Therefore, as a starter, the affected countries should develop a mutual position to counter China. As for the second step, a good solution for them might be to establish a joint institution which positively influences the region through diplomacy and broader means, including joint military exercises, and therefore sending a strong signal towards China as well as making a second similar occurrence, such as the South China Sea dispute less likely.

We would like to thank Professor Dr. Christopher Roberts for his time and insights in his research and are looking forward to hear from his future contributions on that matter!