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Building a Normative Order in the South China Sea

Evolving Disputes, Expanding Options

Edited by Truong T. Tran, John B. Welfield and Thuy T. Le

The South China Sea, where a number of great powers and regional players contend for influence, has emerged as one of the most potentially explosive regions in the world today. What can be done to reduce the possibility of conflict, solve the outstanding territorial problems, and harness the potential of the sea to promote regional development, environmental sustainability and security? This book, with contributions from leading authorities in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore and the United States, seeks to illuminate these questions.
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John B. Welfield and Le Thuy Trang

Interstate conflict, in the view of one-third of the global decision-makers and experts assembled to compile the World Economic Forum 2015 Global Risks Report, was the most probable serious danger facing the East Asia-Pacific region over the coming decade.1 A Pew Research Center global opinion poll conducted in the spring of 2014 found that people in eight of the 11 Asian countries surveyed expressed fears about possible military conflict over territorial disputes involving the People’s Republic of China and its neighbors. In China itself, more than six in every ten citizens expressed similar concerns. Two-thirds of Americans in 2014 also feared that intensifying territorial disputes between China and its neighbors could spark an armed conflict.2 Although the World Economic Forum 2017 Global Risks Report considered such conflict as a decreasing risk in terms of likelihood and impact,3 majorities in China, Japan and several other East Asian nations remained concerned about territorial tensions and the strategic drama being played out between the United States and China on land and at sea across the region had begun to fuel fears that the “Pacific century” might be shattered by a new Pacific war.4 For better or for worse, Southeast Asia, the region which has given birth to the most vigorous efforts to construct a regional security architecture designed to ensure long-term peace and stability in Asia and the wider Pacific Basin, is today confronted by a series of intractable problems that may well constitute the greatest tests it has faced since the end of the Cold War. Much has been said about the significance of the South China Sea for the security and development of the Indo-Pacific. This sea offers the shortest route from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean. About half of the world’s commerce, half of global liquefied natural gas and a third of global crude oil transit through this body of water each year.5 Two-fifths of the world’s tuna are born in the South China Sea, contributing to a multibillion-dollar fisheries industry.6 These statistics, oft-cited, are just a few indicators of the South China Sea’s importance to the region and the world at large. A durable regional security system that can deliver lasting stability and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific cannot be constructed in the absence of a smoothly functioning regional maritime order in this critical area. Yet this body of water, blessed with so many valuable resources and crisscrossed by a network of vital sea-lanes, has become the home to some of the most intractable territorial disputes in Asia and a stage for intensifying great power strategic competition. The longstanding territorial and maritime disputes simmering in the South China Sea and the machinations of great powers have been slowing down the momentum for regional cooperation and frustrating attempts to forge a robust and mutually beneficial security architecture. There is also another troubling dimension of very great significance. While the tempo of regional cooperation has slackened, the rate at which the South China Sea marine environment is deteriorating has accelerated. Forty percent of the South China Sea’s fish stocks have already been exhausted and, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, most fish resources in the western part of the South China Sea have been exploited or overexploited.7 Meanwhile, 70 percent of the South China Sea’s coral reefs are reported to be in poor or only fair condition.8 Put simply, while the challenges to the South China Sea marine environment are growing, the capacity of regional mechanisms to effectively address those challenges has been undermined or severely constrained.

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Abdullah Saeed

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Abdullah Saeed

What are human rights? This chapter answers this fundamental question, then provides a synopsis of the development of the international human rights discourse, from its inception in the context of natural law theories to its codification in the aftermath of the Second World War.

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Abdullah Saeed

In recent years there have been several clashes over the extent to which free speech can be used to publically discuss, criticise or mock another religions tradition. This chapter explores the issue of freedom of expression in Islam and under international law and considers when free speech should be curtailed to protect the rights of others. As a case study, it focuses on the Danish cartoon controversy.

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Human Rights and Islam

An Introduction to Key Debates between Islamic Law and International Human Rights Law

Abdullah Saeed

Is there a basis for human rights in Islam? Beginning with an exploration of what rights are and how the human rights discourse developed, Abdullah Saeed explores the resources that exist within Islamic tradition. He looks at those that are compatible with international human rights law and can be garnered to promote and protect human rights in Muslim-majority states. A number of rights are given specific focus, including the rights of women and children, freedom of expression and religion, as well as jihad and the laws of war. Human Rights and Islam emphasises the need for Muslims to rethink problematic areas of Islamic thought that are difficult to reconcile with contemporary conceptions of human rights.
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Abdullah Saeed

Those who argue for an Islamic conception of human rights agree that it is essential for a connection to be made between international human rights law and Islamic values if human rights are to gain widespread acceptance among Muslims. This chapter outlines the most important Islamic textual sources of authority and legal tools that can be used in this endeavour.

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Abdullah Saeed

In 1993, Samuel Huntington proposed that differences between “civilisations” would be a fundamental source of conflict in the future. The idea of a “clash of civilisations” has also permeated the human rights discourse, with some arguing that Islamic conceptions of rights are essentially different to international conceptions. This chapter examines this thesis and explores Islamic notions of rights.

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Abdullah Saeed

One of the most well-known Islamic legal terms today might well be “jihad”. This chapter focuses on the Islamic rules that govern the use of violence in war or other contexts. It considers how the doctrine of jihad emerged and was influenced by various contextual factors and the commonalities and tensions between this body of legal rulings and international humanitarian law, which governs armed conflict globally today.