MARITIME SECURITY IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA: Regional Implications and International Cooperation. Edited by Shicun Wu, National Institute for South China Seas Studies, Hainan, and Keyuan Zou, University of Central Lancashire. Ashgate, Farnham (2009) xi and 261 pp, plus 10 pp Index. Hardback £55.
The South China Sea is a critical sea route for the maritime transport of East Asian countries including China, Japan and Korea. It attracts more national attention due to its abundant living and non-living marine resources. The Spratly Islands are claimed by five countries and six parties (Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Chinese Taipei and Vietnam) in whole or in part and (apart from Brunei) they display their physical presence on their respectively occupied islets. The South China Sea is classified as a semi-enclosed sea in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, Part IX, since which unilateral actions of the claimants attempting to consolidate their territorial and maritime claims have never ceased. However, the book places more emphasis on non-traditional security issues such as piracy and maritime terrorism.
The Malacca Straits and the Singapore Straits are major sea lanes in Southeast Asia where about 60,000 vessels pass through annually. Sea piracy has been linked to the threat of maritime terrorist attacks but they have different root causes. National measures have been taken by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, while bilateral measures are in place among Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, China, India, Japan, the USA and ASEAN. Ho emphasises that the littoral states have the primary role in addressing maritime security issues and observation of the rule of international law in implementation of any new initiatives.
Despite the works of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific since 1992, resolution of the sovereignty claims and agreement on maritime boundaries seem quite unlikely in the foreseeable future in the South China Sea. Bateman argues that there is no effective regime in the area for providing key elements of good order at sea, ie: the safety and security of shipping; the preservation, protection, and conservation of the marine environment; agreed arrangements for the exploration and exploitation of marine resources; and the prevention of illegal activity at sea. Concerned countries have to make a much greater effort to promote the notion of functional cooperation which may replace the idea of “fences in the sea” as border fences on land.
Erickson comments that there is a wide variety of bilateral and multilateral maritime security cooperation initiatives in the region of the South China Sea. The initiatives recognise both the gravity of extant threats and the interests of those responsible nations involved and help to provide a set of frameworks for collective security. The importance and indispensability of marine environment protection has been recognised by the international community, including the countries in the South China Sea. It is necessary to have an appropriate legal framework in combating marine pollution in the region. Zhang suggests the establishment of a legal framework for the region following the Mediterranean convention-protocol approach with the assistance of the United Nations Environment Programme. China should consider playing the role as an internal propellant because China has interests in a favourable marine environment in the South China Sea.
Assistant Professor, Department of Logistics and Maritime Studies,
Hong Kong Polytechnic University.