Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



International Relations

First Advisor

Jean Krasno


Cina, Asean, UNCLOS


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the South China Sea dispute and to analyze why the dispute has yet to escalate, as well as the strategic importance of the South China Sea dispute in relation to international trade. This thesis will also study possible solutions and effects on both the region and the international community. I argue here that while the ASEAN countries have continued to make valuable efforts at finding multilateral solutions to the dispute, China has resisted these efforts by demanding its own bilateral negotiation process. The Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands, both located in the South China Sea, has become an obstacle to creating multilateral security in the region. The question of who owns the Spratly Islands, which are scattered throughout an 800 square kilometer area, was largely ignored until the 1970s when oil companies began exploring the area. Therefore, sporadic military confrontations over sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction have taken place. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei claim parts or all of the aforementioned islands; thus, the Spratly and the Paracel Islands have become an important flashpoint in the dispute.

The primary concern of the South China dispute lies at China’s “tongue-like nine dashed lines” that is construed through the South China Sea, in areas where several other countries dispute their claims. With this in mind, China’s perspective requires a more in-depth analysis. ASEAN member states have informally adopted their own way of managing conflict in what is known as the “ASEAN Way” which is a style that is informal and personal where policymakers constantly utilize compromise, consensus, and consultation. Due to the complexity of the South China Sea dispute, negotiations have been lagging since the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea excludes rocks incapable of sustaining human habitation as stated in Article 121. Rocks, which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own, shall have no exclusive zone or continental shelf. All of the claimant countries of the South China Sea dispute are signatories to the UN Law of the Sea Convention, which created guidelines concerning the status of the islands, the continental shelf, enclosed seas, and territorial limits with the exclusivity of an economic zone within the South China Sea dispute. Therefore, following the Convention’s dispute mechanism may allow and assist in resolving the dispute between the claimant countries.



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