China in the South China Sea genuine multilateralism or a wolf in sheep's clothing?
Jackson, John W.
Miller, H. Lyman
Twomey, Christopher P.
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The South China Sea claimants base their claims on ancient documentation and archeological evidence. However, they largely ignored the territories until the 1960s, when natural resources speculations began. The 1982 UNCLOS magnified interest as claimants hoped to extend exclusive economic rights from their claims rather than continental coastlines. Another possible factor behind Chinese claims is the theory that Beijing desires to establish Chinese hegemony in the region. Beijing's shift from bilateral diplomacy and military aggression to multilateral diplomacy has created debate among Sinologists. Many argue China lacked the power necessary to assert its claims and now can finally attempt assertion again, thus the naval buildup. Others argue that natural resources drive China's SCS policy and still others believe bureaucratic infighting drives policy. Economic data shows a possible causal relationship between trade and China's political behavior. The 1996 U.S. Presidential campaign slogan, "It's the economy stupid," apparently applies to Beijing's SCS approach as well. The U.S. approach to the disputes remains one of ambivalence. As long as the United States maintains freedom of navigation through the area, Washington should remain concerned but uninvolved. Beijing largely feels the same way, with the important addition of guaranteeing access to the region's natural resources.