The South China Sea Disputes and Law of the Sea

The South China Sea Disputes and Law of the Sea

NUS Centre for International Law series

Edited by S. Jayakumar, Tommy Koh and Robert Beckman

South China Sea Disputes And Law Of The Sea explores in great detail the application of specific provisions of UNCLOS and how the framework of international law applies to the South China Sea. Offering a comprehensive analysis of the individual topics and their application to the South China Sea region, each chapter of the book provides a substantive and rigorous investigation into the history, development and application of the relevant legal principles. It is written within the global context so that lessons learned from this exercise will have global implications. Contributors include former judges from ITLOS, legal advisors to States who participated in the negotiation and drafting of UNCLOS, as well as outstanding scholars of both law and geography, many of whom have acted as counsel or experts in cases before international court and tribunals.


S. Jayakumar, Tommy Koh and Robert Beckman

Subjects: asian studies, asian law, law - academic, asian law, maritime law, public international law


The South China Sea has long been a source of tension and potential conflict in the Asia-Pacific region. The underlying source of the tension is the territorial sovereignty disputes over the Spratly Islands (claimed partially or wholly by Brunei Darussalam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam), the Paracel Islands (claimed by China, Taiwan and Viet Nam), and Scarborough Shoal (claimed by China, Taiwan and the Philippines). The territorial sovereignty disputes are governed by the principles and rules of general international law on the acquisition and loss of territory, not by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). For most of the claimants, the legal disputes about territorial sovereignty are complicated by different historical narratives and by sensitive issues of nationalism and domestic politics. This makes negotiating a resolution of the sovereignty disputes very difficult. Given the intractability of the sovereignty disputes, many scholars and officials do not speak of ‘resolving’ the disputes in the South China Sea. Rather, they speak about ‘managing potential conflicts’ in the South China Sea. The interim solution that is most often proposed is ‘setting aside the disputes’ and pursuing joint development and other cooperative arrangements. To explore and promote this idea, in 2013 the NUS Centre for International Law (CIL) published a book discussing the legal framework for the joint development of hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea.