The South China Sea? The West Philippine Sea? The East Sea? All of these are names that are given to the same body of water. Vietnam refers to it as the East Sea and the Philippines recently started to officially refer to it as the West Philippine Sea. Most of the rest of the world continues to call it the South China Sea.
Given the long simmering, and recently exploding, territorial claims to the small islands that sprinkle this territory, I would guess that we may see more new names emerge. Perhaps the North Malaysian Sea, or just the North Sea, from the perspectives of Malaysia and Brunei, who also have territorial claims there? Taiwan and Indonesia also have interests in these waters.
Although it has barely been mentioned in the U.S. press, for those who follow international news in general, and Asia news in particular (as I do), the recent disputes over this body of water is alarming. It started in May when a Chinese ship cut an underwater exploration cable connected to a Vietnamese oil survey ship in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone waters. The Chinese claim that the survey was in its territorial waters and as such were illegal.
This resulted in anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam, followed by retaliatory attacks on Vietnamese
‘s internet government websites by Chinese hackers. Last week, Vietnam initiated live-fire naval exercises and also chased Chinese fishing boats in the disputed area.
Earlier this month, the Philippine government complained that Chinese ships were posting marker signs on a coral reef just off the island of Palawan, within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines (but also claimed by China). This has resulted in public (not from the government) calls to boycott products made in China (most of which are actually smuggled into the Philippines to avoid import taxes).
Vietnam has suggested that the U.S. should help to settle these disputes, and the US government has expressed concern over China’s naval activities in the region. China has rejected any outside intervention, although the issue is likely to be a major topic of discussion at upcoming ASEAN meetings.
A good map of how China’s claims overlap those of the Southeast Asian countries can be found on the BBC website here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13723443
I see this as a major geodesign issue. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCOLS) was an international effort to resolve spatial territorial claims over sea and ocean waters by establishing guidelines on where to draw territorial boundaries. It was an effort at designing the earth in a way that would make it more clear and predictable for countries and their citizens. It was signed in 1982 and became effective in 1994, though only 60 countries have ratified it.
Approaching the current South China Sea dispute as a geodesign teaching moment case study demonstrates the role of international treaties and law, nationalism, and international relations, especially in terms of political power, military power and economic power. Although seldom recognized, these are clearly integral elements of applying geodesign at a regional and global scale.
All territorial boundary lines were created, or are being created, through tensions between one side of the boundary and the other. While these tensions are seldom as dramatic as those of the South China/West Philippine/East Sea, they still exist and need to be recognized in designing a livable and thriving planet.
Alan A. Lew
My other blog: Tourism Place