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The Spratly Islands Dispute: Rethinking the Interplay of Law, Diplomacy, and Geo-politics in the South China Sea

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image of The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law

The Spratly Islands archipelago has become pivotal as a strategic, economic and political asset in the South China Sea. This situation has become particularly evident since the end of the Cold War, as the Spratlys have been used by six littoral states as legal basepoints to project claims over strategic sea-lanes, fishery waters and submarine hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea. The claimant state having predominant military and economic influence in the region is China, which has used military force on occasion to substantiate its claims. It is not inconceivable that the dispute over the Spratlys could lead to military conflict. Successful settlement of sovereignty disputes for the Timor Gap area, Antarctica and the Svalbard archipelago provide models for creating a joint resource development authority to promote regional co-operation among Spratly claimants. The most critical ingredient for mitigating tensions in the South China Sea is the political willingness of Spratly claimants, especially China, to make dispute settlement happen.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Government, Georgetown University, Washington, DC


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