Recent months have witnessed renewed tensions over disputed territories in the South China Sea. In response to China’s encroaching military maneuvers and the country’s designation of the whole area as part of its indisputable sovereignty, several South East Asian countries have found themselves dangerously vulnerable. A murky legal regime has led to the emergence of a series of overlapping territorial claims in the area, but at the center of tensions are five key-actors: China, the Philippines, Vietnam, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and increasingly the United States.
Despite growing economic interdependence, a two-decade-long Chinese charm-offensive, modest levels of pan-regional political integration, and considerable institutional-political linkages, the South China Sea issue is an intractable issue reigniting inter-state tensions and threatening the very stability of the whole Asia-Pacific region. However, the issue is also a catalyst for a more pro-active regional response that emphasizes rule-based diplomatic resolutions of both existent and emerging conflicts.