4. 1 Addressing the Conflict in the South China Sea

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4.1 Addressing the Conflict in the South China Sea
Technical and complex, the situation in the South China Sea is one of great importance, both for regional and international stability. Over the past few decades, new and historical claims to territories and maritime boundaries of individual nations have come forth and been debated over at length. There are nearly a dozen different conflicts over these borders throughout the South China Sea, and nearly as many countries involved in the conflict. The issue surrounding the People’s Republic of China’s nine-dash line and it’s claims to an Exclusive Economic Zone will be the focus of this committee’s discussion, though discussion over the Vietnamese coast, Borneo’s maritime boundary, the Paracel and Spratly Islands, the Natuna Islands, and more are all within this committee’s purview to discuss as well. With countries ranging from China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam involved, and with the large number of contentious areas, finding a way to bring disagreeing parties together for negotiation is a critical the focus of the United Nations.
At the heart of the disagreements in the South China Sea lies the United Nations Conventions on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS). The 1982 document outlined maritime boundaries, and established Exclusive Economic Zones to protect individual member states’ resources within their borders. It is within this agreement, which China and other actors are party to that the foundation for conflict appears. For example, in 2014 Vietnam and China both appealed to the United Nations for a ruling on the borders near the Vietnamese coast, and both countries cited UNCLOS as the legal basis for their appeals.
It is the responsibility of the United Nations to oversee the process of negotiations on this issue. With most major parties involved referring to UNCLOS as the basis of their claims, the United Nations has the opportunity to strengthen the impact of international law, and help the disagreeing parties come to a long awaited agreement. However, not all member states in the region are party to UNCLOS, and others may decide against upholding UNCLOS if used in opposition to their goals. With an increased military presence by nearly all countries involved, the situation requires strong oversight and an emphasis on open negotiations.

Topics for Consideration:

  • How can UNCLOS be used to rectify the conflict in the South China Sea?

  • What other UN documents could assist in resolving the conflict? Are there other forms of action that can be utilized?

  • What can this committee do to promote peaceful negotiations?

  • How might future conflicts of this nature be avoided in the future?


"ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea." Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 20 July 2012. Web., http://www.cfr.org/asia-and-pacific/aseans-six-point-principles-south-china-sea/p28915

Poling, Gregory B. The South China Sea in Focus: Clarifying the Limits of Maritime Dispute. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013. Web., http://csis.org/files/publication/130717_Poling_SouthChinaSea_Web.pdf

"South China Sea." U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, 03 Aug. 2012. Web., http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/08/196022.htm

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