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Read Free: 'Can Anyone Really Rule the South China Sea?' | Aileen Baviera

on . Posted in News @ UP Asian Center

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) steams through the South China Sea July 8, 2012. Photo and captions from US Department of Defense via Wikimedia. 


In an essay published in The Straits Times, 'Can Anyone Really Rule the South China Sea,' Professor Aileen Baviera of the UP Asian Center combines personal musings with geopolitical reflections.

Below are excerpts from the essay. 

Free from Territorial Boundaries

Recently, I was on a six-day cruise in the East China Sea that started in Shanghai and docked in Okinawa, Nagasaki and Fukuoka...Looking out into the seemingly limitless ocean, one could not help but have a sense of being free from territorial boundaries. I thought of how being creatures of the land has taught most of us to think in terms of the state and its narrow interests. Just exactly at such a moment, another passenger standing beside me - also looking out at sea - nodded his head in one direction and said: "That is where the Senkakus are, not too far from here. That is where Japan and China might yet end up having a war over their contested islands." I envy the free creatures of the sea, for we creatures of the land have become captive of our own illusions of conquest and control.

The Oceans Cannot be Tame, Claimed and Fenced Off

It seems that governments have let their primordial territorial instincts rule them. There is folly in this. They seek control of the waters, as if oceans could be tamed, claimed and fenced off like the land. In truth, no one knows exactly what they are claiming....As I look down at the smallness of the land features, and the distances between them in proportion to the vast expanse of ocean, I cannot help but think of how presump- tuous and foolish men are to think that this all belongs to certain countries because once upon a time, some person named or mapped or fished or navigated here before anyone else did.

Geopolitical Stakes: Big Power Competition

While previous decades saw disputes over valuable rights to natural resources, the area now looks more squarely like a playground for big powers' competition. The stakes include control over vital sea lanes of navigation for commercial as well as military vessels, and over airspace considered critical by certain countries to their defence. The geopolitical situation has only complicated what were already complex territorial and maritime jurisdiction disagreements. Indeed, the disputes are so complicated that no solutions are near. 

Dr. Aileen SP. Baviera is Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman. She specializes on and writes about contemporary China studies, China-Southeast Asia relations, Asia-Pacific security, territorial and maritime disputes, and regional integration. The editor in chief of the journal, "Asian Politics & Policy," she is the author of many academic publications, including the "The Domestic Mediations of China's Influence in the Philippines," which appears in Rising China's Influence in Developing Asia, edited by Evelyn Goh and published by Oxford University Press. She completed her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman. VIEW FULL PROFILE. 


The UP Asian Center offers M.A. programs in Asian Studies with four fields of specialization: Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and West Asia. The Center also has an M.A. program in Philippine Studies that allows students to major in Philippine society and culture, Philippine foreign relations, or Philippine development studies. The Center offers a Ph.D. program in Philippine Studies in conjunction with the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy. Get an overview of these programs. The Asian Center also houses a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia. It has published several books and monographs, and hosts or organizes various lectures and conferences.   

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