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Silk Road Project May Facilitate Resolution of South China Sea Disputes

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Sputnik: The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road project could resolve the longstanding South China Sea maritime disputes that have always been considered a stumbling block to multilateral collaboration in the region.

The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road project may facilitate the resolution of the longstanding South China Sea maritime disputes, Chinese media suggested.

The disputes involve at least six parties, particularly China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. It should be noted, though, that Brunei has revoked its territorial claim over Louisa Reef in the Spratlys. Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines make claims to major islands or island chains as well as maritime boundaries.

At the same time the area claimed by China covers most of the South China Sea, overlapping territorial claims of other nations.

The areas of dispute include rich fishing fields and suspected oil and natural gas reserves. In addition, more than half of the world’s merchant fleet tonnage passes through the Straits of Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok leading into the South China Sea.

The sides of the dispute have long been divided on whether the rights on territorial waters should be determined in accordance with international law. Some nations insisted that the history of the region should also been taken into consideration.

However, Beijing’s nine-dash line area claim sparked major controversy among the counties and related parties.

In January 2013, the Philippines even went so far as to request the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to consider its disputes with Beijing. The Philippines filed an official suit in March 2014, and additional documents in March 2015, but Beijing expressed its doubts in the court’s jurisdiction and refused to accept arbitration, China’s media outlet noted.

Meanwhile, new China’s President Xi Jinping launched his “charm offensive” in 2013, announcing Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

The initiative aims to bolster multinational economic development in the region. The project consists of two parts: the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” plan and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road.”

According to Chinese media sources, the project is “China’s mega external policy to guide its foreign relationships in the coming eight to 10 years.” So far, ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is likely to become the largest trade hub by 2020.

Remarkably, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has brought together both China’s friends and “foes”: it is expected that the Philippines will delay the arbitration and boost multilateral or bilateral contacts with Beijing after presidential election of 2016.

China’s “soft power” diplomacy has also borne its fruit in Vietnam and Malaysia: instead of focusing on their longstanding maritime disputes with China, the countries have jumped at chance to join Beijing’s lucrative projects.

It seems that the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road project may eventually help the nations to tie the Gordian knot and resolve the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.