Thursday, January 13, 2011

Managing the South China Sea Disputes: Towards A Cooperative Management Regime?

By Rommel C. Banlaoi
            After 9/11, Philippines-China relations have improved tremendously based on the various agreements the two governments have entered into in various fields.  Their bilateral relations also became comprehensive when they started their defense and security dialogue in 2005 and enthusiastically pursued thereafter a series of exchange visits of their military and security officials.  But the Joint Marine Seismic Understaking (JMSU) scandal and the controversy surrounding the passage of the New Philippine Baselines Law have  demonstrated that their bilateral security relations remain fragile and the issues of territorial integrity in the South China Sea continue to be a sensitive issue in their bilateral relations. 
            There have been a lot of proposals to peacefully manage the South China Sea Dispute.  One proposal is through a functionalist approach where claimants will start cooperating in non-political aspects of the issue in order to “put under the rag” all sensitive issues that can trigger conflict.[1]  Another proposal is through “joint development”, which inspires the JMSU.[2]  There is also a concept of “sharing the resources” of the South China Sea as a peaceful option.[3] 

But the most recent proposal is called “cooperative management regime” (CMR) conceptualized in 2007 in an international conference in Singapore organized by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies of Nanyang Technological University.[4]  Apparently influenced by a “Regime Theory” in international relations, the CMR is consistent with the functionalist option in upholding the idea of functional cooperation to manage conflict in the South China Sea.  Though the CMR remains embryonic in its conceptualization with little clarity and coherence, it urged claimants to engage in cooperation in non-traditional security as part of the over-all CBM and trust building in the South China Sea.  The CMR is deemed to be alternative “conflict-avoidance” approach for the establishment of a regime of peace and stability in the South China Sea. 

The Philippines and China can contribute in the development of CMR in the South China Sea by pursuing a bilateral fisheries agreement.  China and Japan entered into this kind of agreement in 1997 while China and South Korea followed suit in 2000.  In fact, the Philippines has already proposed in 2007 a ’fisheries corridor’ in the South China Sea to avoid potential conflicts that could affect peace and stability in the region.[5]    Though the Philippines and China already held in 2005 the First Meeting of the Philippines-China Joint Commission on Fisheries on explore bilateral cooperation on fishery investments, research and technology, and safety of property and life at sea, the momentum to talk was disturbed by the JMSU controversy. 

There is a need to sustain talks on this issue to find a more pragmatic, peaceful and non-confrontational solution to the South China Sea conflict, which  at present is being viewed as experiencing a renewed tension.

[1]See Rommel C. Banlaoi, “A Functionalist Approach to the Management of Conflicts in the South China Sea:  Options for  China, the Philippines and other  Claimants, in Security Aspects of Philippines-China Relations, op. cit., Chapter 8.  Also in Rommel Banlaoi, The ASEAN Regional Forum, the South China Sea Disputes, and the Functionalist Option (Quezon City:  National Defense College of the Philippines), pp. 54-80.
[2]Clive Schofield, “Sea of Plenty:  The Oil Factor in the South China and Prospects for Joint Development” (Paper prepared for the Panel on the South China Sea in honour of Professor Michael Leifer at the Third International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Studies, London, 6-8 September 2001).
[3] Mark Valencia, Mark Jon M. Van Dyke and Noel A. Ludwig, Sharing the Resources of the South  China Sea, Paperback edition. (Hawaii:  University of Hawaii Press, 1997).

[4]The South China Sea: Towards a Cooperative Management Regime (Conference Report:  RSIS, NTU, Singapore, 16-17 May 2007).   Also see Sam Bateman and Ralf Emmers (eds), Security and International Politics in the South China Sea:  Towards a Cooperative Management Regime (New York and London:  Routledge, 2008).
[5]Philippines wants fishing agreement in S. China Sea”, Reuters (4 September 2007) at 

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