Policy Background Paper no. 3
Published by Australian National University and the
MacArthur Foundation Asia Security Initiative
THERE IS some debate about whether multilateralism or bilateralism (including US military alliances) provides more effective approaches to security dilemmas facing East Asia. One might apply this question to the maritime security challenges in the region.
At least four interlocking layers of potential maritime conflict exist in East Asia today. These include: (1) territorial and sovereignty disputes over islands and atolls in the East and South China Seas; (2) disputes over undefined or overlapping maritime boundaries and legal jurisdiction issues; (3) threats to maritime safety and sea-lane security; and (4) military competition for sea control among major powers.
Most worrisome is the challenge of great power military competition. Combined, China’s increasing naval power, the vigorous interest of the US in asserting naval primacy, and the growing assertiveness of Japan pose serious challenges to the future security architecture of the Asia-Pacific. In particular, they threaten to undermine the cooperative security institutions and norms that have been painstakingly developed since the end of the Cold War. However, the most urgent security concerns relate to conflicting territorial claims among regional states.
CLAIMANT STATES’ APPROACHES TO MARITIME DISPUTES
To what extent have bilateral and multilateral approaches involving various claimant states succeeded or failed thus far in mitigating the region’s maritime conflicts? Bilateral–multilateral questions are especially relevant to the Spratlys disputes: China has become more adamant that these be resolved bilaterally whereas the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has pressed for a multilateral process. SinoVietnamese tensions, for example, have increased significantly, with China blocking Vietnam’s exploration activities and Vietnam seeking to “internationalize” the dispute.
In terms of the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, multiple rounds of bilateral negotiations on demarcating the maritime boundaries have led not to delimitation but to a “principled consensus” where Japan and China have agreed to cooperate in a “transitional period.” There had been indications of both governments trying to downplay tensions but in September 2010, ill feelings escalated following the collision between a Chinese trawler and Japanese Coast Guard vessel, leading to large-scale protests.
MACARTHUR ASIA SECURITY INITIATIVE Policy Background Paper no. 3