The South China Sea (SCS) is a bitterly contested maritime battleground for state sovereignty, oil and gas and, perhaps above all, for the marine resources on which large populations of the Southeast Asia depend for their fish-based protein diet and for income. Militarisation, compounded by pollution, China’s massive construction of artificial islands in the Paracels and Spratlys and the depletion of the fishing stocks in the entire SCS proceeds hand in hand with China’ new regional and transregional initiatives such as the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives that plays a vital role in securing China’s position and interest in the SCS region. Historically, the SCS has for centuries been a zone of connection as much as a zone of separation or conflict, connecting China with mainland Southeast Asia, the Malay World and further regions through commercial, religious and ethnic networks. The Maritime Silk Road conditioned the rise and fall of political entities—states and empires—in Southeast Asia. In the contemporary post-Cold War period this Maritime Silk Road has resurfaced as one of the axes of global trade but this, as the chapter shows, is compounded by modern territorial claims to the seas themselves.

Edyta Roszko

Research Professor, Principal Investigator: TransOcean (ERC Starting Grant)

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