Author : Veerle Nouwens

Issue BriefsPublished on Apr 12, 2021
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

Above the Law: Holding China to Account in the South China Sea

China is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to revise the global order to suit its interests. Nowhere else has this campaign been on display more clearly than in the South China Sea. Beijing’s approach has been defined by calibrated actions unlikely to provoke a response or are difficult to respond to proportionately. Beijing has run roughshod over its neighbours in maritime disputes while flatly rejecting the authority of international legal bodies and ramping up military confrontations with the US and others.

In its determination to displace other powers, Beijing has inverted the concept of great powers providing public goods and has instead elected to produce ‘public bads’—environmental destruction, illegal maritime activity, and disregard for international law and the rules-based order. China seeks to change the facts on the ground through menacing, militarised fortresses built by illegal reclamation and backed up by its maritime forces, legal warfare and naming submerged features.

Beijing’s influence in international institutions and its weaponisation of an enormous domestic market makes it difficult to hold China to account. A growing lack of confidence in China as a good-faith partner in negotiations on the South China Sea casts doubt on the prospects for success in dialogue alone,[1] although the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) still prefer maintaining engagement.

A dual-track strategy is required. This means coordinated action to push back against Chinese adventurism while simultaneously engaging Beijing to create a constructive dialogue where possible. The latter must be done with clarity and an acknowledgement that there is no cost-free approach. China has proven its willingness and ability to punish governments for attempting to hold it to account, but the alternative is to subordinate the interests of the international community to those of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

As a rising great power, China has an important role to play, and its behaviour in situations like the ongoing disputes over the South China Sea will determine whether it is a positive one. It is hoped that a dual-track approach can dissuade Beijing from further pursuing environmentally and diplomatically damaging policies and instead seek cooperative solutions.

Revisionist Claims at Sea

China’s nebulous nine-dash line in the South China Sea extends hundreds of miles past its recognised maritime claims, overlapping the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of multiple South China Sea littoral states and encompassing several groups of disputed islands. In 2013, China kicked off a gargantuan building campaign that raised submerged reefs into artificial islands through enormously destructive dredging practices and sand mining efforts. Beijing’s efforts represented a clear and roundly rejected[2] attempt to change the status quo of features under its control, in contravention of its previous agreements with other South China Sea states like the 2002 Declaration of Conduct.[3] Its subsequent maritime claims supposedly generated by the features are inconsistent with international maritime law, but are backed up by the world’s largest coast guard as well as the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Official and Unofficial Maritime Forces

To maintain its efforts beneath the threshold for military conflict, Beijing has relied extensively on non-military tools to achieve its aims at sea. A decade ago, Chinese maritime law was enforced by five agencies that operated an outdated fleet of retired, repainted military vessels and other less capable craft.[4] Their uncoordinated, often conflicting mandates created a situation that was referred to as wulong naohai—five dragons stirring up the sea—by Chinese policymakers.[5] However, these five dragons were unified in 2013, in conjunction with the inauguration of Beijing’s South China Sea blitz.

Since then, the China Coast Guard (CCG), as the composite organisation was renamed, has built a force of unmatched size in the Indo-Pacific. With purpose-built hulls suited for ramming and shouldering, these white-painted behemoths have acted as a contact and blunt layer in maritime disputes across the South China Sea, committing wanton abuses including sinking fishing vessels and kidnapping fisherfolk for ransom,[6] even interfering with other South China Sea littoral states’ maritime law enforcement efforts in their own EEZs. China’s ‘Maritime Police Law,’ which came into force on 1 February 2021, attempts to cast a veneer of legality over CCG activities, but experts on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) have already identified multiple areas in which China’s law contravenes international law—for instance, the provision for the CCG to use lethal force in “in sea areas under the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China,” which were left undefined rather than just those formally delineated by UNCLOS.[7] The law further risks upending regional peace by potentially claiming jurisdiction over foreign flagged vessels in disputed areas or even the high seas.[8]

Much ink has been spilt over the so-called “grey zone” in recent years, which stems largely from China’s reliance on state-sponsored irregular forces, the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM), to further its claims at sea. Scholars and practitioners alike have published extensively on the dangers posed by this organisation and its detrimental effects on good order at sea. A militarised, non-uniformed force under the control of the state that regularly engages in unsafe, illegal activities, such as ramming and shouldering, has introduced the potential for serious escalation in the region.[9]

Environmental Destruction

The result of the island-building and presence en masse of the PAFMM has not just been a matter of maritime control. It has also seen the devastating destruction of coral reefs on the seabed through dredging for island construction and the maritime militia’s reported engagement in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, decimating the South China Sea’s marine biodiversity.[10] By some estimations, China already represents half the world’s fishing activity, with between 200,000 and 800,000 fishing boats.[11] China’s distant water fishing fleet, the world’s largest, is thought to comprise between 1,600 and 3,400 vessels, though the Overseas Development Institute estimates the number is closer to 17,000.[12]

The impact of Chinese fishing is global, but it is acute in the South China Sea. Total fish stocks in the South China Sea have been depleted by 70 percent to 95 percent since the 1950s, while catch rates have declined by 66 percent to 75 percent over the last 20 years.[13] Island building and giant clam harvesting, with crude and destructive extraction methods, were estimated in 2017 to have severely damaged or destroyed 160 square kilometers of coral reefs.[14] Giant clam harvesting, after a brief hiatus, has reportedly resumed.[15] The secondary effects of such practices are deeply problematic. The South China Sea accounted for 12 percent of global fish catch in 2015, with over half of the world’s fishing vessels operating in the region.[16] According to various studies, fish accounts for around 19 percent of animal-sourced protein in Asia, rising to 75 percent in Cambodia, and fisheries are the main or supplementary source of employment and livelihood for more than 47 million people in the region (including China).[17] Failing to look after the marine environment is also in contravention of article 192 of UNCLOS.[18]

Lawfare: Naming and Claiming

The problem, of course, is that China’s relentless pursuit of control over the South China Sea is not simply a military question. A range of tools are deftly used to change the legal landscape slowly. China’s use of law in modern warfare, otherwise known as ‘lawfare’, has multiple facets. The first is to change the legal administration over the region. On 18 April 2020, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs established two new administrative regions for the South China Sea headquartered in Sansha City, Woody Island.[19] The Xisha District covers the Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank, while the Nansha District comprises the Spratly Islands. This follows a decades-long effort to slowly accumulate and project legal powers over the South China Sea, from setting up a party committee and government office on Woody Island in 1959 to creating in 2008 new administrative departments and public institutions on the island.[20] Sansha City prefecture itself was created in 2012 as part of Hainan Province, with the city’s jurisdiction covering 280 rocks, reefs and other maritime features across 800,000 square miles of the South China Sea.[21] The creation of the two subordinate administrative districts thus further expands China’s governance over the territory within the nine-dash line.

China also seeks to assert an image of ownership over the South China Sea by renaming submerged features. In late April 2020, just after creating the two administrative districts, Beijing gave names to 25 islands, shoals and reefs, and 55 undersea mountains and ridges.[22] The geopolitical nature of naming geographic features can be intended to declare some form of sovereignty over them. This is particularly problematic when the features lie in the EEZ of others or in the high seas, as they do in China’s case. While there are no provisions in UNCLOS that specifically lay out principles around geographic names, when the feature is found within an EEZ, it is generally understood to be the right of the coastal state to name it.[23] When submerged features fall outside of the EEZ, countries wishing to name and claim a feature are hard-pressed under UNCLOS to show that the submerged feature is actually a continuation of their continental shelf and thus technically submerged land. Given China’s track-record in respecting UNCLOS in the South China Sea, none of this will be of any real concern.

Slowly laying a legal foundation to turn the South China Sea into Chinese maritime territory in its own books creates a level of terminological and legal confusion that helps obfuscate what rules do and do not apply in the eyes of Beijing. This matters for those seeking agreement with China on rules of the road in the maritime domain.

China uses the term ‘jurisdictional seas’, a term not recognised under international law, to mean it has jurisdiction over all maritime zones from its inland waters to its continental shelf—and any other area that China claims.[24] When China changed the CCG’s mandate to include new powers within its jurisdictional seas, it also meant everything within the nine-dash line.[25] As a second example, the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES)—a pact to avoid and prevent any escalation in tensions at sea between different countries—is problematic in that there seems to be some level of ambiguity over whether it applies to all maritime zones (except for the territorial sea), or only areas recognised by both parties as being international waters.[26] Indeed, previous statements from both the US and Chinese side highlight the divergence on where CUES applies.[27]

When combined, Chinese actions in the South China Sea present a complex picture for any country seeking to hold Beijing to account. But that is not to say that countries within and outside of the region have not made such attempts.

Regional Responses

Southeast Asian states and concerned international partners have responded in numerous ways to China’s bold manoeuvres in the South China Sea.

UNCLOS and Adjudication

Chief among the attempts has been the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) case instituted by the Philippines government against the Chinese government in 2013, which sought clarity over the legal basis of China’s maritime claims under UNCLOS.[28] Although it formally refused to participate in the case, China made a submission to the PCA. The outcome was a ruling in 2016 that China’s claim to maritime rights based upon historic rights and the nine-dash line is incompatible with UNCLOS.[29] However, upholding the final ruling has proved less than straightforward. Vietnam had been rumoured to be considering a similar legal case, but so far has seemed unwilling to pursue this avenue.[30]

Diplomatic Signaling Through Notes Verbales

Instead, a flurry of notes verbales were submitted to the UN Commission on the Limits to the Continental Shelf and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In December 2019, a note from the Malaysian government rejected the legal basis of China’s claims to historical rights.[31] The submission sparked a surge of notes verbales from the Philippines,[32] Vietnam,[33] Indonesia,[34] the US,[35] Australia,[36] a joint submission by France, Germany and the UK,[37] and Japan.[38] China responded to and dismissed every single one. While the notes verbales change little on the ground, these diplomatic initiatives to uphold the PCA ruling and the international rule of law is significant in showing China’s claims and activities are not accepted. However, it further highlighted the unresolved intra-regional disagreements among states like Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.[39],[40]

Rise of Southeast Asian Coast Guards

Another avenue for Southeast Asian states to counterbalance against China’s expansive jurisdictional claims has been to strengthen their own non-military maritime capabilities. From the early days of the CCG’s creation, Southeast Asian navies found themselves at a distinct disadvantage at sea. Most regional states had navies that were responsible both for upholding national sovereignty and enforcing maritime law. But when these so-called “grey hulls” met CCG vessels at sea, their capabilities were mismatched respective to the situation confronting them.[41] The CCG, by design, lent an air of enforcing Chinese law. Equipped with non-lethal tools like water cannons to enforce their demands, the presence of CCG vessels created the erroneous impression of Chinese jurisdiction. Southeast Asian naval vessels were unequipped to respond below the threshold of lethal force and their vessels were often smaller than their opposition, leaving them vulnerable to ramming and shouldering by the much larger CCG. In response, much as China did in 2013, many Southeast Asian states created their own white-hulled coast guards, a reflection that the real battle for the South China Sea would be fought with and through laws and jurisdiction, rather than with missiles and bullets.[42] This has taken a different shape in each country, but the general trend shows a considerable growth in white hulls across the region.

Reinforcing Southeast Asian Islands

China’s rapid construction campaign also created a security dilemma that saw other regional powers investing more in their own holdings in the South China Sea. Vietnam has invested significantly in building up its military capabilities on features it controls.[43] But this should not distract from the fact that China has reclaimed over 3,000 acres of land in the Spratlys compared to Vietnam’s relatively meagre 120 acres.[44] And distracting is precisely where Chinese efforts have been focused. As early as 2015, China’s foreign ministry began floating multiple trial balloons to excuse its behaviour, including the nonsensical idea that China’s activities were simply a part of its obligations to UNESCO.[45] The foreign ministry’s spokesperson went so far as to vilify other states conducting reclamation activities, stating that they were infringing upon Chinese sovereignty. In the intervening years, China has repeatedly trotted out the false equivalence between its immense, destructive campaign and the comparatively minuscule, less-destructive projects of its neighbours.

Southeast Asia Joins the Name Game

Both the Philippines and Indonesia have sought to take a page out of China’s rulebook by renaming their own marine zones as an extra stamp of sovereignty. In 2012, the Philippines renamed a small portion of the South China Sea within its EEZ and continental shelf as the West Philippines Sea.[46] In 2017, Manilla renamed the Benham Rise to Philippine Rise, after China had been conducting unapproved scientific marine surveying despite being in the Philippines’ EEZ.[47] In 2019, Indonesia renamed the waters northeast of the Natuna Islands as the ‘North Natuna Sea’, following successive Chinese fishing and CCG vessels incursions into Indonesia’s EEZ.[48] These measures are unlikely to alter China’s behaviour, but they have rather ironically sparked Beijing’s ire. This only further elucidates China’s own strategic intent behind renaming features.

Holding Beijing to Account: Potential Ways Forward

So far, an immense amount of effort has been placed on the ASEAN-China negotiation process toward a South China Sea Code of Conduct. However, this is unlikely to produce anything meaningful. After years of negotiation, the two camps remain opposed in their interests. ASEAN member states wish to constrain Beijing and encourage their neighbour to become a responsible stakeholder. Beijing wishes to retain freedom of action and establish a regional order that excludes powers like Australia and the US, allowing it to set the rules. These were the going-in positions and they have yet to change.

At one time, these negotiations might have been worth the effort in the name of ASEAN centrality, and they might still be. Observers have pointed out ASEAN’s past failures to release a statement mentioning the South China Sea due to Chinese influence with member countries like Cambodia and Laos.[49],[50] It is worth considering that there was still value in the fact that ASEAN member states have not released statements endorsing China’s actions either. China is averse to multilateralism where its interests are concerned and has made every effort to deal bilaterally with claimants to drive wedges into the bloc.

Despite the lack of progress—or even measurable activity—in the negotiation process, there is still some value in its continuance, if only to highlight China’s continued intransigence on the issue. But the only potential for completion of an agreement would likely be toothless and reduced to the lowest common denominator of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, with no enforcement mechanism or recourse available to the smaller powers. This is also the outcome most favourable to Beijing, which would likely use the agreement to support its parochial claims to regional hegemony.

Diplomatic Signalling

The global community should make every effort to support the ASEAN member states in their battle to ensconce a universalist view of international law in any Code of Conduct. The raft of notes verbales delivered in 2020 is an excellent way to offer that public support, and like-minded states should encourage others to add their voices to the chorus. Indeed, the joint submission by France, Germany and the UK offers a model for other countries to replicate. Countries are harder to single out and punish when they are part of a group. At a time when minilateralism is increasingly popular on several policy issues, creating small networks to support the rule of law in the South China Sea should be one of them. But diplomatic signalling will not be enough.

Targeted Sanctions

In terms of actions available that hold China responsible for its illicit actions, a broader regime of sanctions should be pursued. The Trump administration levied sanctions against the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, given its association with China’s South China Sea activities and with several other Chinese corporations tied to the military.[51] Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced that executives of China’s state-owned enterprises, CCPofficials and naval officers associated with China’s island-building would be subject to visa restrictions.[52] The new Biden administration has signalled that it will not lift these sanctions immediately, leaving them on the US Department of Commerce blacklist.

Despite international perceptions of many American actions over the past four years, these sanctions were long overdue and could go much further, both in the scope of their targets and the states that are party to the sanctions regime. The shipbuilders that build Chinese dredging equipment and the CCG’s ships are appropriate candidates for targeted sanctions, as are the executives and shipowners involved in widespread IUU fishing across the globe.[53]

A UN sanctions regime is impossible, given China’s seat on the UN Security Council, but there is space for a multilateral set of economic sanctions on these actors that contravened the UNCLOS and continued apace in their destruction of a delicate maritime environment that is the lifeblood of Southeast Asia.

Coordinated Action on the Marine Environment

Combating IUU fishing and the resulting destruction of the marine environment offers another key area for coordinated action. According to the US, IUU fishing has replaced piracy as the leading global maritime security threat.[54] The EU has created a colour-carding system for countries, which initiates dialogues on improving domestic anti-IUU regulation and imposes trade restrictions on fisheries trade with the EU if anti-IUU supply chain assurances are not implemented.[55],[56] So far, only small and medium-sized countries like Comoros and Cambodia, Panama and Papua New Guinea have been issued warning yellow and red cards or been blacklisted.[57]

The system seems to have had an effect in several countries where the yellow card has been lifted, from Thailand[58] to Taiwan.[59] But the EU has also been criticised for having double standards. While China has been shown to not comply with international laws and is the worst IUU offender globally, it continues to export significant amounts of seafood to the EU, leaving countries that receive yellow or red cards may question whether the EU is serious about tackling IUU even-handedly across the world.[60] Indeed, the EU seems to instead prefer dialogue with China on this issue through its Blue Partnership for the Oceans, in which combating IUU fishing is one key area.[61]

However, none of this should detract from cooperation amongst partners on IUU in the South China Sea. The US and Europe could, for example, work together on promoting the ratification of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Agreement on Port State Measures, the first binding international agreement targeting IUU fishing by preventing vessels engaged in it from using ports and landing their catches.[62] The agreement has only been ratified by 68 countries and organisations, including the EU, France, UK, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and the US.[63] In Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia and Cambodia have signed the pact.[64] Bringing onboard the remaining Southeast Asian states, providing technical assistance and creating the domestic frameworks necessary to better tackle IUU fishing in the region is an area where like-minded partners can help. Indeed, the EU has already been recognised as doing so in ASEAN’s own Cooperation Framework on Combatting IUU Fishing.[65]

Like-minded countries can also partner on improving counter-IUU fishing enforcement at the national and regional level amongst Southeast Asian littoral states. While the US has its Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative,[66],[67],[68] the EU has recently expressed its intention to extend CRIMARIO from the Western Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia.[69] The objective of these initiatives is capacity building in maritime domain awareness and maritime law enforcement.

Maritime domain awareness is perhaps the most critical element in any plan to hold China accountable for its activities at sea because it is the source of evidence supporting the case. The earlier years of China’s South China Sea depredations were defined by embarrassing public disclosures by governments surprised to find the CCG accompanying hordes of Chinese fishing vessels inside their EEZs.[70] With few exceptions, most states possessed an incomplete patchwork of sensors capable of surveilling only parts of their territorial waters and too few patrol boats and aircraft to maintain persistent coverage of vast maritime zones. However, sustained capacity building efforts from Japan, the EU, India, Australia and the US have made significant strides in providing access to commercial surveillance tools that take advantage of increasingly affordable space-based sensor data and allow regional states to locate and disrupt illicit activity in their EEZs.[71],[72]

It is vital that this cooperation continue to support Southeast Asian littoral states in their national and regional-level efforts to counter China’s continued degradation of good order at sea. Networked efforts would be more effective. If countries seeking to offer assistance coordinate those activities before implementing solutions, it will avoid the common issue of states unintentionally working at cross purposes, or multiple similar initiatives working in parallel that dilute the impact of capacity-building efforts.

Where possible, these well-intentioned partners should seek to work through national and regional institutions rather than develop new mechanisms that detract from existing frameworks. They should also draw on existing regional best practices and approaches that offer a model for neighbours to follow.

De-flagging China’s Distant Water Fishing Fleet

The financial crime angle to combating illegal fishing and the vessels that conduct it is another avenue worth pursuing to curtail Chinese activities in the South China Sea. According to one study, illegal fishing is the sixth-largest global crime, and efforts to ‘follow the money’ are increasing.[73] Such is the extent of this illegal trade that even INTERPOL helps countries conduct all-inclusive investigations and has implemented an INTERPOL Notice System for colour-coding fishing vessels and associated suspects of IUU fishing and abuse of flag state registries.[74] Efforts like this can help countries close-in on offending companies and ships and pursue the de-flagging of vessels in court.

However, the consequences of IUU listing of vessels need to be more effective in stopping IUU fishing, flag states need to act when there is evidence of non-compliance, and a mandatory automated identification system is needed for all commercial fishing vessels to ensure complete monitoring of their activity.[75] On this, like-minded countries can spearhead efforts to enforce existing rules better, identify and address loopholes, and work together with regional authorities to bring perpetrators to court and their ships out of operation. In the South China Sea, this would help tackle the overwhelming presence of Chinese fishing vessels. But it would be a long-term solution that will not have an immediate effect. Investigations take time.

Careful Multilateralism at Sea

Increasing emphasis on the South China Sea among extra-regional powers is a positive development that should be encouraged. British and French carrier deployment[76],[77] and Germany’s pledge to send its first warship to the region[78] since 2002 are important signals of support for the existing rules-based order. While the UK and EU members may lack the capacity to maintain a persistent naval presence in the region, their commitments come at a critical time for signalling a unified position on basic values. In that same vein, continued deployments of Australian, Japanese, Indian and American forces are crucial and are able to maintain a larger, more persistent presence in the region.

However, care should be taken to avoid the idea that an international task force should assume duties in the region, a la the Gulf of Aden. Southeast Asia is not a lawless region, nor are there failed states that require extra-regional intervention. This necessitates a balanced approach from responding states—visible support combined with respect for local sovereignty. Effective coordination is possible but requires knowledge of and respect for regional institutions and norms to succeed. Where possible, these ad hoc patrols should explicitly support the objectives of regional institutions such as the Maritime Security Experts Working Group of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus and ASEAN initiatives focused on fighting IUU fishing.

Multilateral Working Group on the PAFMM

A multilateral working group dedicated to identifying and highlighting PAFMM leaders, vessels and activities will be a worthy initiative that will benefit regional states and their extra-regional partners. As scholars have noted, the opacity surrounding China’s maritime militia forces creates the conditions for conflict and places fishing vessels in the line of fire.[79] China’s duty as a flag state, namely the responsibility to ensure its flagged vessels’ adherence to international law, should be leveraged where possible. As a longer-term objective, the working group’s members should press China to clarify the nature of its militia forces, defining militia members’ status before their characteristically aggressive tactics result in serious conflict.[80]

A Dual-Tracked Approach

These measures could be pursued to hold Beijing to account in the South China Sea, with the ultimate objective of dissuading China from continuing down its current path. However, while counterbalancing is important, engagement should still be pursued where possible. Offering off-ramps for the Chinese government that help refocus energy, for example, the creation of maritime protection zones, could be one element of that strategy.

Sceptics will say these efforts are futile at best and, at worst, help legitimise China as having equal say vis-à-vis the states with legitimate claims in the future management of the South China Sea. They may be right. But to ignore the reality that China will not backtrack from its proclaimed core interests in the South China Sea is likewise unhelpful. It is difficult to see where confronting China head-on to reverse China’s current gains in the South China Sea ends. Seeking to shape its engagement in the region should, at the very least, be pursued. Various expert working groups have offered blueprints to this effect.[81] While they have yet to be taken up seriously by the Chinese government, they offer interesting ideas on finding constructive solutions to the current disputes. The CCP is not a monolith. Some voices advocate a new approach on the South China Sea, one more befitting a rising great power.[82] These should be carefully engaged, with the awareness that the CCP has used moderate voices in the past to attempt to ease tension without changing its behaviour.

When such efforts are combined with the aforementioned policy measures, there can be no mistaking cooperation with China with endorsement of its invalidated claims. A strong and continued drumbeat of diplomatic messaging at every level is needed to retain control over the narrative, which China will undoubtedly seek to skew. But a dual-track approach will be required. Political signalling should, therefore, also happen at sea, albeit with an understanding of how to frame these efforts in accordance with Southeast Asian sensitivities. Activities can range from capacity building to joint exercises and patrols but should reflect support for regional sovereignty at every turn.

Conditions in the South China Sea are dire, both for the people who depend on it for their livelihoods and the future of the rules-based order. There are no predetermined outcomes—Chinese hegemony is not a given, nor is continued regional prosperity. With committed, principled action, it is possible to hold China to account for its irresponsible actions to date and avoid conflict. Without it, states reliant on the rules-based order will find themselves subject to the whims of an irresponsible rising power at sea.

[1] Hoang Thi Ha, “ASEAN and the South China Sea Code of Conduct: Raising the Aegis of International Law, ISEAS Commentary, 21 September 2020.

[2] Jane Perlez, “Tribunal Rejects Beijing’s Claims in South China Sea, The New York Times, 12 July 2016.

[3] Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, Centre for International Law, 4 November 2002.

[4] Lyle J. Goldstein, “Five Dragons Stirring Up the Sea, Challenge and Opportunity in China’s Improving Maritime Enforcement Capabilities”, China Maritime Study no. 5 (April 2010), Center for Naval Warfare Studies.

[5] Ryan Martinson, ““From Words to Actions: The Creation of the China Coast Guard” (paper presentation, China as a “Maritime Power” Conference, Arlington, Virginia, 28-29 July 2015).

[6] Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Chinese Kidnapping of Vietnamese Fishermen in the South China Sea: A Primary Source Analysis, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 14 September 2017.

[7] Shigeki Sakamoto, “China’s New Coast Guard Law and its Implications for Maritime Security in the East and South China Seas, Lawfare, 16 February 2021.

[8] Raul (Pete) Pedrozo, “Maritime Police Law of the People’s Republic of China, International Law Studies 465, no. 97 (2021).

[9] Gregory Poling, “China’s Hidden Navy, Foreign Policy, 25 June 2019.

[10] Rachael Bale, “One of the World’s Biggest Fisheries is on the Verge of Collapse, National Geographic, 29 August  2016; Matthew Southerland, China’s Island Building in the South China Sea: Damage to the Marine Environment, Implications, and International Law, US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 12 April 2016.

[11] Ian Urbina, “How China’s Expanding Fishing Fleet Is Depleting the World’s Oceans, Yale Environment 360, 17 August 2020.

[12] Miren Gutiérrez et al., “China’s Distant-Water Fishing Fleet: Scale, Impact and Governance, Overseas Development Institute, June 2020.

[13] South China Sea Expert Working Group, A Blueprint for Fisheries Management and Environmental Cooperation in the South China Sea, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2017.

[14] “A Blueprint for Fisheries Management and Environmental Cooperation in the South China Sea”

[15] China’s Most Destructive Boats Return to the South China Sea, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, 20 May 2019; Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Jhesset O. Enano, Juie M. Aurelio, “PH Protests China’s Harvest of Giant Clams, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 April 2019.

[16] Gregory B. Poling, “Illuminating the South China Sea’s Dark Fishing Fleets, The Stephenson Ocean Security Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 January 2019.

[17] CGIAR Research Program on Fish, “Asia,” CGIAR.

[18] United Nations, Convention on the Law of the Sea Part XII Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment, UN.

[19] Huong Le Thu, “Fishing While the Water is Muddy: China’s Newly Announced Administrative Districts in the South China Sea, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, 6 May 2020.

[20] Zachary Haver, “Sansha and the Expansion of China’s South China Sea Administration, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, 12 May 2020.

[21] “Sansha New Step in Managing S. China Sea,” Global Times, 7 July 2012,; Haver, “Sansha and the Expansion of China’s South China Sea Administration”

[22] Kristin Huang, “Beijing Could Face ASEAN’s Wrath Over ‘Naming and Claiming’ of South China Sea Features, Observers Say,” South China Morning Post, 25 April 2020,

[23] Trent Palmer, “Geographic Names and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” International Hydrographic Review, vol. 7 no. 1 (April 2006),

[24] Sarah Lohschelder, “Chinese Domestic Law in the South China Sea,” New Perspectives in Foreign Policy 13 (Summer 2017), Center for Strategic and International Studies,

[25] Sakamoto, “China’s New Coast Guard Law and its Implications for Maritime Security in the East and South China Seas”

[26] Yeganeh Torbati, “Despite Agreements, Risks Linger of US-China Naval Mishaps,” Reuters, 30 October 2015,

[27] Torbati, “Despite Agreements, Risks Linger of US-China Naval Mishaps”

[28] Permanent Court of Arbitration, “The South China Sea Arbitration (The Republic of Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China),” Permanent Court of Arbitration,

[29] Erik Voeten, “Why the South China Sea Matters,” The Washington Post, 12 July 2016,

[30] Ankit Panda, “China Warns Vietnam to Not ‘Complicate’ South China Sea Dispute By Seeking Legal Arbitration, The Diplomat, 9 November 2019.

[31]  United Nations (letter, from the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 12 December 2019).

[32] United Nations, (letter, from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 6 March 2020).

[33] United Nations, (letter, from the Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 30 March 2020).

[34] United Nations, (letter, from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 12 June 2020).

[35] United Nations, (letter, from Ambassador Kelly Craft as United States Representative to the United Nations to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1 June 2020).

[36] United Nations, (letter, from the Permanent Mission of the Commonwealth of Australia to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 23 July 2020).

[37] United Nations, (letter, from the Permanent Mission of the Commonwealth of Australia to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 23 July 2020).

[38] United Nations, (letter, from the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 16 September 2020).

[39] Bhavan Jaipragas and Tashny Sukumaran, “South China Sea: Malaysia Rejects Philippines’ Sabah Claim in New Diplomatic Note,” South China Morning Post, 28 August 2020,

[40] Linh Pham, “South China Sea-Related Notes Verbales Might Deal Huge Blow to China’s Prestige: Thayer,” Hanoi Times, 6 August 2020,

[41] Prashanth Parameswaran, Managing the Rise of Southeast Asia’s Coast Guards (Washington DC: Wilson Center, 2019),

[42] Lyle Morris, “The Era of Coast Guards in the Asia Pacific Is Upon Us, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, 8 March 2017,

[43] Mike Yeo, “Vietnam Strengthens Fortifications in Disputed South China Sea, Satellite Images Reveal,” Defense News, 26 February 2021,

[44] “Vietnam’s Island Building: Double-Standard or Drop in the Bucket?” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, 11 May 2016,

[45] Andrew S. Erickson, “Lengthening Chinese Airstrips May pave Way for South China Sea ADIZ,” National Interest, 27 April 2015,

[46] Lucio Blanco Pitlo III,” The Philippines and the West Philippine Sea,” The Diplomat, 8 October 2013,

[47] Dharel Placido, “Duterte Renames ‘Benham Rise’ to ‘Philippine Rise’,” ABS-CBN News, 22 May 2017,

[48] Aaron Connelly, “Indonesia’s New North Natuna Sea: What’s in a Name,” The Interpreter, 19 July 2017,

[49] Shuan Turton, “Beijing-Friendly Cambodia and Laos Pushed out to ASEAN’s Fringe,” Nikkei Asia, 13 November 2020,

[50] Prashanth Parameswaran, “Assessing ASEAN’s South China Sea Position in its Post-Ruling Statement,” The Diplomat, 25 July 2016,

[51] US Federal Register, Executive Order 13959 of November 12, 2020 Addressing the Threat from Securities Investments that Finance Communist Chinese Military Companies, Washington DC, U.S. Government, 2020,

[52] David Sherpardson, Alexandra Alper and David Brunnstrom, “UPDATE 2-US Imposes Sanctions on Chinese Officials, Oil Giant Over South China Sea ‘Coercion’,” Reuters, 15 January 2021,

[53] Blake Herzinger, “China is Fishing for Trouble at Sea,” Foreign Policy, 20 November 2020,

[54] US Coast Guard, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Strategic Outlook, Washington DC, US Coast Guard, September 2020,

[55] Virginijus Sinkevicius, “Fighting for the Ocean: The Story of Tackling IUU,” Euractiv, 9 December 2020,

[56] European Commission, Tackling Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, European Commission,

[57] “Tackling Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing”

[58] European Commission, 8 January 2019,

[59] European Commission, 27 June 2019,

[60] Jonathan G. Odom, “Europe’s Double Standard for China’s Overfishing,” EJIL:Talk!, 16 April 2020,

[61] European Commission and People’s Republic of China, Declaration on the Establishment of a Blue Partnership for the Oceans: Towards a Better Ocean Governance, Sustainable Fisheries, and a Thriving Maritime Economy Between the European Union and the People’s Republic of China, EU, 16 July 2018,

[62] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA), FAO.

[63] “Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA)”

[64] “Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA)”

[65] Association of South East Asian Nation, Cooperation Framework on ASEAN Network For Combating Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, Final Draft Adopted by the 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF), ASEAN, 28 July 2020,

[66] US Department of Defense, Asia Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, Washington DC, U.S. Government, 2015,

[67] US Embassy Indonesia, Fact Sheet: US Building Maritime Capacity in Southeast Asia, U.S. Government.

[68] Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Section 1263 Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative, DSCA.

[69] Isabelle Gachie Vinson, “Follow the New European Initiative on Maritime Security in the Wider Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, European Union Crimario, 28 September 2020.

[70] Malaysia Eyes Stronger Response to Chinese Maritime Incursions, The Straits Times, 2 June 2016.

[71] Kei Koga, “The Emerging Indo-Pacific Era, Comparative Connections 21, no. 1 (2019).

[72] Greg Poling, “From Orbit to Ocean—Fixing Southeast Asia’s Remote-Sensing Blind Spots, Naval War College Review 74, no. 1 (2021).

[73] Huw Thomas, “To Fight Illegal Fishing, Follow the Money, The PEW Charitable Trusts, 19 June 2018.

[74] Interpol, “Fighting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing,” Interpol, 7 December 2020.

[75] Fish-i Africa, Investigation No. 19: Infamous IUU-Listed Vessel is De-Flagged, Fish-i Africa, 2019.

[76] Yusuke Nakajima, “UK Raises Pressure on China with Carrier Deployment to Asia, Nikkei Asia, 21 November 2020.

[77] Lim Min Zhang, “France Deploys Aircraft Carrier to Region in Show of Commitment to Area’s Security: French Ambassador, The Straits Times, 29 May 2019.

[78] Shogo Akagawa, “Germany to Send Naval Frigate to Japan with Eye on China, Nikkei Asia, 25 January 2021.

[79] James Kraska and Michael Monti, “The Law of Naval Warfare and China’s Maritime Militia, International Law Studies 450 no. 91 (2015).

[80] Robert McLaughlin, “The Legal Status and Characterization of Maritime Militia Vessels, EJIL:Talk!, 18 June 2019.

[81] Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, CSIS Expert Working Group on the South China Sea, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

[82] Jia Qingguo, “What is the Best Choice to Deal with the US Technology War? Jia Qingguo’s Interpretation,” (interview, XingXing Park).

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