Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 05:47 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 05:47 | SYDNEY

Revisiting the Spratlys


Malcolm Cook

23 September 2008 10:45

The discussion on this blog about defending sea lanes of communication coincides with a worry that has been growing larger and darker in my mind over the last couple of months. The worry is that disputes over conflicting sovereignty claims to the Spratlys may again come to the fore of regional security concerns. We may all have to pore over those incomprehensible (to me anyways) maps aiming to outline all of the conflicting claims but often leave one cross-eyed and nursing a throbbing headache while none the wiser. Try this one.

Three recent Spratlys issues have triggered this sense of trepidation:

  1. The new KMT government in Taiwan, in a sign of continuity with the old DPP one, is committed to more actively supporting Taiwan’s claims to the Spratlys through stronger diplomatic efforts in Southeast Asia, with ASEAN and through maintaining their effective control of the largest island, Taiping. The 2002 ASEAN Code of Conduct in the South China Sea was negotiated with the People’s Republic of China, with Taiwan on the outer. Earlier this year, Taiwan finished construction of a major airstrip on Taiping, and President Chen Shui-bian became the first leader of a claimant to visit the Spratlys. 
  2. In May, Malaysia lost its claim over the islet of Pedra Branca (Batu Puteh for Malaysians) when the International Court of Justice ruled in favour of Singapore. While Pedra Branca is far away from the Spratlys, the ‘loss’ of Batu Puteh led Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Najib, when in Sabah, to reassert Malaysia’s claim to the island of Layang Layang (Swallow’s Reef) in the Spratlys and float the idea of basing more Malaysian military assets on this disputed island to strengthen Malaysia’s control over it. Najib may well become Malaysia’s prime minister before the end of this year.
  3. The People’s Republic of China has reportedly put pressure on British Petroleum to exit an exploration deal with the Vietnam state oil company in the Spratlys. More recently, Vietnam was spooked by ‘invasion’ plans posted by some Chinese netizens, underlining Vietnam’s historic fears of China and how these are wrapped up in the two countries’ disputed claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands. 

Photo by Flickr user Storm Crypt, used under a Creative Commons license.