Legal Frameworks for the Joint Development of Hydrocarbon Resources
NUS Centre for International Law series
Edited by Robert Beckman, Ian Townsend-Gault, Clive Schofield, Tara Davenport and Leonardo Bernard
Introduction: why joint development in the South China Sea?
The South China Sea is of critical importance to its multiple bordering States and entities for a number of reasons. In particular, the broad, semi-enclosed waters of the South China Sea host a marine environment of globally significant biological diversity and productivity. Consequently, these waters support and sustain marine living resources, especially fisheries and aquaculture activities, which are fundamental to the livelihoods as well as the primary protein needs, and thus food security, of literally hundreds of millions of people within the region. The seabed underlying the South China Sea is also often portrayed as a major potential source of seabed hydrocarbon resources. Regardless of the true validity of suggestions that the seabed is ‘oil rich’, the perception that this is the case remains a powerful factor in the calculations of the interested coastal States. Moreover, the South China Sea hosts sea lanes of global significance and the geostrategic importance of the region cannot be ignored. All of these considerations are of note in the context of the other critical feature of the South China Sea – its highly disputed and contested character. The South China Sea is host to multiple and, to a large extent, intertwined maritime and territorial disputes involving China, Viet Nam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan (the claimants). These disputes include competing claims to territorial sovereignty, especially in respect to several groups of small islands, as well as maritime jurisdictional disputes which have given rise to broad areas of overlapping maritime claims.