The making of a fait-accompli: Clashing maritime claims and regional stability in the South China Sea

(Boston, Oct 17, 2015) – Bill Hayton, author of The South China Sea: the struggle for power in Asia (Yale, 2014), made his keynote speech about the South China Sea issue on Boston Global Forum’s conference “Dangerous Situation and Solutions for Peace and Security in the South China Sea” on October 16, 2015 at Harvard Faculty Club.

According to Hayton, the significance of China’s island building in the South China Sea lies less in what it has done so far than in what it might be about to do. In his view, the current concern should focus on three areas of sea: the Vanguard Bank, off the Vietnamese coast; the Reed Bank, off the Philippines coast; and around the Luconia Shoals and James Shoal, off the Malaysian coast.

“All three have significant oil and gas potential. That’s not to say that hydrocarbons are the sole reason for China’s island building. There are many motivations – reflecting China’s many security interests and its many internal lobbies.”, he said.

Hayton closed his speech by giving his view on the use of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as a solution: “…Beijing would prefer an ‘imaginative’ interpretation of customary international law that would recognize an historic claim to all the waters inside its self-proclaimed U-shaped line. It seems Beijing no longer regards UNCLOS as a neutral arbiter of disputes but rather as a partisan weapon being wielded to sever China from its historic rights.”

Watch his full speech here: