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UNCLOS and maritime security: The "securitisation" of the South China Sea disputes

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This Critical Comment seeks to situate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) within the context of South China Sea (SCS) dispute. Bearing in mind that maritime actions of the main disputants – China, Vietnam, and the Philippines – increasingly “securitise” these long-standing disputes and vice versa, the study examines the concept of a maritime “regime complex.” Whereas efforts have being made to examine UNCLOS and indeed the dispute within the framework of a maritime “regime complex,” the key finding shows that the increased “securitisation” of the disputes makes it difficult to envisage effective engagement of UNCLOS as a resolution mechanism. It will also reveal that China's firmly established expansionist agenda in the SCS region is indicative of Beijing's susceptibility to compromise a diplomatic solution to these long-standing disputes. These discoveries are structured around the knowledge that the spatial relation of the SCS critically espouses not only its geo-strategic significance in terms of natural resources endowment, but also the enduring maritime disputes within the region.
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Defense & Security Analysis
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UNCLOS and maritime security: the
“securitisation” of the South China Sea disputes
Christo Odeyemi
To cite this article: Christo Odeyemi (2015) UNCLOS and maritime security: the “securitisation”
of the South China Sea disputes, Defense & Security Analysis, 31:4, 293-302, DOI:
10.1080/14751798.2015.1101186
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14751798.2015.1101186
Published online: 10 Nov 2015.
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Critical Comment
UNCLOS and maritime security: the securitisationof the South China Sea
disputes
Christo Odeyemi*
Department of Social Inquiry, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
This Critical Comment seeks to situate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS) within the context of South China Sea (SCS) dispute. Bearing in mind that
maritime actions of the main disputants China, Vietnam, and the Philippines
increasingly securitisethese long-standing disputes and vice versa, the study examines the
concept of a maritime regime complex.Whereas efforts have being made to examine
UNCLOS and indeed the dispute within the framework of a maritime regime complex,
the key nding shows that the increased securitisationof the disputes makes it difcult to
envisage effective engagement of UNCLOS as a resolution mechanism. It will also reveal
that Chinasrmly established expansionist agenda in the SCS region is indicative of
Beijings susceptibility to compromise a diplomatic solution to these long-standing disputes.
These discoveries are structured around the knowledge that the spatial relation of the SCS
critically espouses not only its geo-strategic signicance in terms of natural resources
endowment, but also the enduring maritime disputes within the region.
Keywords: South China Sea; disputes; maritime security; securitisation; UNCLOS; regime
complex
Introduction
Due to developments as recent as April 2015, it is hard to locate works that have examined the
relationship between United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), increased
securitisation of the South China Sea (SCS) maritime dispute, and a maritime regime complex.
One of the few exceptions is Robert Kaplans recognition that the unique geography of the
SCS region encourages the military fortication of areas claimed by the disputants and thus
enhances the prospects for increased aggression.
1
But Kaplans central argument is not robust
enough. This Critical Comment derives from the implicit manner with which he discussed afore-
mentioned relationship. It is notable that codication makes UNCLOS one of the most important
international legal tools but at the same time ranks among the least recognised in a growing inter-
dependent world,
2
partly due to UNCLOSs inertia in discouraging the disputants from turning
SCS into an armed arena.
3
The promotion of maritime security occurs within a context of International Law that provides
both opportunities and constraints.
4
Indeed, UNCLOS has produced mixed effects in respect of
the SCS dispute. On the one hand, UNCLOS provides a unied legal referent, given that all
the States involved in the dispute are signatories to the Treaty and base their maritime claims
either fully or partially on it. On the other hand, Alison Ba posits that UNCLOS has been
© 2015 Taylor & Francis
*Email: christcyber@yahoo.co.uk
Defense & Security Analysis, 2015
Vol. 31, No. 4, 293302, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14751798.2015.1101186
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