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The Sino-US Confrontation in the South China Sea: Insights from International Order Perspective

Heritage, Anisa Jane, Lee, Pak K. (2020) The Sino-US Confrontation in the South China Sea: Insights from International Order Perspective. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 33 (1). pp. 134-156. ISSN 0955-7571. E-ISSN 1474-449X. (doi:10.1080/09557571.2019.1639622) (KAR id:73646)


Conventional accounts of the South China Sea territorial disputes identify China’s assertive behaviour as the primary cause of the rising tension since the early 2010s. This paper goes beyond this traditional view of the disputes by arguing that the territorial disputes are an expression of the broader contestation between two order-building projects by China and the US. China’s assertive behaviour originates in its desire to promote a ‘historical’ and ‘post-colonial’ maritime order that is premised on its Sino-centric historical narrative of the Sea and on its emphasis on the historical legitimacy of the regional order of 1943-1945. The US-led ‘liberal’ maritime order is underpinned by a post-war legal framework built on the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the notion and practice of freedom of navigation. Since October 2015 the US has enhanced its Freedom of Navigation Operations to challenge China’s ‘excessive’ maritime or territorial claims. We conclude that as a result of the uneasy co-existence of these two order-building projects, which fundamentally disagree over the foundations of maritime order in the South China Sea, the disputes have reached an open-ended impasse.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/09557571.2019.1639622
Uncontrolled keywords: South China Sea, international order, San Francisco Peace Treaty, UNCLOS, freedom of navigation
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions and public administrations (Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Area, etc.)
J Political Science > JX International law
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Pak K Lee
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2019 10:21 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 15:53 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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