U-M experts can discuss South China Sea dispute

October 28, 2015
Contact: umichnews@umich.edu

The recent presence of a U.S. ship in the South China Sea has once again sparked the debate over “freedom of navigation.”

Southeast Asian countries have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but tension has steadily increased in recent years with China backing its claims and the U.S. opposing restrictions on freedom of navigation.

Experts at the University of Michigan can discuss the various issues surrounding the dispute.

Linda Lim, professor of strategy at the Ross School of Business, is an expert on political economy of local and multinational business in Southeast Asia.

“Southeast Asian countries have been pressuring the U.S. for a long time to ‘do something’ about China’s island-building in the South China Sea,” she said. “These countries along with Japan, Korea and China, itself, rely heavily on freedom of navigation through these waters for their economic livelihood. But countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, are not able or willing to challenge China themselves, either individually or collectively as a group, for example, via the ASEAN organization.

“I imagine Southeast Asian governments and populations are breathing a collective sigh of relief over the U.S. action, which is really not a big deal since it is based on established international norms, practices and precedents.”

Contact: 734-763-0290, lylim@umich.edu

John Ciorciari is an assistant professor at the Ford School of Public Policy. His research focuses on Southeast Asia and examines foreign policy strategies, human rights and the reform of international economic institutions.

“The new U.S. patrols are an appropriate—and, indeed, overdue—response to China’s island-building campaign,” he said. “U.S. policy has stressed rightly the importance of freedom of navigation and resolution of the sovereignty dispute through peaceful negotiation or adjudication.

“China’s unilateral effort to engineer a fait accompli is a frontal challenge to the U.S. position. The Obama administration has gone out of its way to conduct the patrols in a low-key manner, trying to reassure allies and preserve credibility without raising the temperature unnecessarily. Angry reactions from Beijing suggest the risk of a more confrontational posture but also help validate the U.S decision, reaffirming that Chinese authorities intend for the artificial islands to put an end to the de facto sovereignty debate.”

Contact: 734-615-6947, johncior@umich.edu