08/16/2019 International Security in Asia
Lecture Topic:?Strategic Implication of the South China Sea-Challenge to Maritime Security
Class taken by Dr. Fu-Kuo Liu
At the start of his class, Dr. Fu-Kuo Liu presents a number of questions for the students to ponder on. Why is the South China Sea (SCS) so critical for the region? Why has the SCS become the focal point of US-China strategic competition? What does US-China competition in the SCS really mean? How much can the US and China gain from the SCS? What would the main issue in the SCS: military confrontation, territorial claims, geopolitical interests, or revising the international system?
He then proceeds with discussing the importance of SCS on many different aspects. For one, most countries depend on open sea lines of communication in the SCS. East Asian economies rely on the free flow of maritime trade. It is in the interest of oil-importing countries that ships have unimpeded access in this area to secure their energy supply. This area is also rich marine resources along with largely untapped oil and gas reserves. Moreover, the growing population in claimant parties dependent on fish stock as a main source of protein results in overfishing. Another issue is the building of artificial islands. Since 2012, China has intensified its efforts in working on land reclamation atop reefs and atolls. Dr. Liu explains that China already built seven artificial islands in the following locations: Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef, Johnson South Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Hughes Reef, and Gaven Reef. Three of the seven artificial islands have airstrip and naval base. Thus, China’s military installations on these artificial islands and reefs have been a source of concern.
In recent years, the SCS has also been at the center of strategic competition between the US and China. Questions from participants refer to the response of claimant states and major powers like the US in the developments in the SCS issue. One question highlights the seeming need for US allies in the region like the Philippines to take sides. Dr. Liu notes that the world has entered a new era where most important international issues will be decided by the US and China. This makes the SCS at the core of most issues in Asia. As such, he sees that the policy of most states on the SCS issue is closely connected to their policy toward China. He adds that the Philippines is a typical example of how states in the region are managing the US-China rivalry. Although he says that President Duterte has a critical role in the issue, his legacy may not endure given that he only has three years left in his term. Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping may remain in power for the next 15 years.
Another student raises a question on whether the world is headed toward a new Cold War, wherein most countries have to choose sides. Dr. Liu clarifies that the SCS presents a challenge, and no textbook can guide states on the right action to take. He gives the example of ASEAN in which member states aim to achieve peaceful settlement of the SCS issue and functional areas of cooperation. In 2018, ASEAN and China reached agreement on the draft negotiating text on the Code of Conduct on the SCS. Still, hurdles remain making it difficult for all parties to conclude a legally binding agreement. Furthermore, Dr. Liu underscores that the world is at a historic juncture wherein state and non-state actors are pushed to rethink the norms of the international system. Paradigms are being challenged by new ideas. Brewing dissatisfaction in many societies weakens democracy and democratic values, which in turn can make the Beijing consensus more attractive. One student argues that having to choose is a very disempowered approach on the US-China rivalry. She views that the middle ground holds power particularly the harmonious influence of Asian philosophy and value system.
Dr. Liu is the Dean of the International College of Innovation at the National Chengchi University. He specializes in Asia-Pacific security, national security, foreign policy, and US-Asia strategy.