NUS Centre for International Law series
Edited by S. Jayakumar, Tommy Koh and Robert Beckman
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.