Origins of the South China Sea Dispute
Nguyen Thi Lan Anh
As with most territorial disputes, the ones that emanate from the South China Sea are extremely complex and multi-layered. The contested status of the territorial features in the sea are rooted in the region's deep colonial history on one hand, and the legal regime of islands in accordance with international law on the other. The geostrategic importance of these features and the presence of rich natural resources around them have culminated in uneasy tensions in the South China Sea region between multiple states that claim sovereignty over the features. This has been fuelled by domestic politics and the rise of nationalism within certain claimant states. This chapter aims at providing an overview of the various layers that have contributed to the current complexity of the South China Sea dispute. It also highlights the challenges preventing the parties from reaching a resolution of the dispute in the near future. To arrive at this, it will first discuss the early history of the region in the colonial period. It then examines the influence of different factors, such as international law, economics, the geo-strategic significance of features, and the domestic situations in claimant states that trigger the South China Sea dispute.