Maritime Conflict in Asia

May 2011

This project had its own website:


The purpose of this project is to study how disputes concerning ownership to islands (notably the Spratlys and the Paracels), and conflicts over maritime resources (fish, oil, minerals), and measures to protect sea-lanes against terrorists and pirates affect regional security in South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Underlying the project are three main suppositions:

  • The maritime disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea are intimately linked to the dispute over Taiwan and can only be resolved in conjunction of a resolution of the question of Taiwan's formal status. Cooperation between mainland China and Taiwan in the maritime field thus has a potential to play a constructive role both regionally and within China.
  • ASEAN has, and is likely to continue to have a constructive role to play within the larger East Asian regional architecture. The dispute in the South China Sea is the main irritant within the Sino-ASEAN relationship, even after the signing of a Declaration of a code-of-conduct in 2002. Thus there will continue to be active attempts to find ways of tackling the dispute peacefully.
  • The fish stocks, coral reefs and marine environment in the South China Sea are under serious stress, and the multilateral dispute over maritime delimitation and sovereignty to the Spratly islands has so far made it virtually impossible to adequately address environmental concerns. However, there is some movement in the right direction. Environmental risk may have a potential for generating enough regional concern to foster multilateral cooperation in environmental protection and resource management.

'Security & Maritime Conflict in East Asia' builds on the momentum from a previous project on 'Energy and Security in the South China Sea', which was funded by the Petropol programme of the Norwegian Research Council, Statoil, the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was based at the Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo (SUM), was a part of the research and networking activities conducted within the Norwegian Network for Pacific Asian Studies, and lasted from 1998 to 2001. The aim of the project is still to build competence on economic, diplomatic, political and military relations in the South China Sea region, with a view to providing advice to the Norwegian government, media and oil companies engaged in the area.

The following is a short description of the former project:

An Introduction

The security situation in the South China Sea region is characterised by a multinational dispute over the territorial delimitation of the South China Sea. There are overlapping claims between no less than six states to the Spratly area. The lack of a firm security structure in the region makes the territorial dispute an explosive issue. On the other hand, the dispute provides the regional states in Southeast and East Asia with an incentive and opportunity to develop regional co-operative institutions. The southern part of the South China Sea contains rich reserves of oil and gas, and this may also be the case for the Spratly area. Exploration for oil is already going on in areas claimed by more than one country. The fishing zone around the South China Sea ranks fourth among the world's nineteen fishing zones in terms of total annual marine production. As the traditional fishing grounds in the region are suffering from over-fishing, the renewal of resources in the South China Sea is expected to be of major importance for the coastal states in the future. The security of the region is of vital importance also to external powers, primarily to the oil-hungry economies of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and increasingly the southern provinces of China, which all depend on safe and open sea lanes through the South China Sea.

A list of publications relating to this project can be found here.


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Tønnesson, Stein (2006) The South China Sea in the Age of European Decline , Modern Asian Studies 40(1): 1–57.


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