Major Papers


South China Sea, ASEAN, soft regionalism, China, UNCLOS


The South China Sea has been a major geopolitical flashpoint of the 21st century due to maritime disputes. At stake are billions worth of aquatic resources and untapped energy reserves. Beyond these, larger issues of sovereignty, maritime rights, and the freedom of navigation are in question. The involved parties in the disputes are China, which asserts its historical ownership of more than 80% of the maritime features, and the ASEAN states of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia, which heavily bank on the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea, in ascertaining their claims. ASEAN is supposed to be an avenue to counter Chinese aggression in the region, given that almost half of its member-states are parties to the disputes. However, the organization has found itself in a crucial deadlock. In this study, I unpack the political and economic variables that hamper ASEAN’s ability to address maritime issues in a robust manner. Using historical research and document analysis, this paper expounds on the roadblocks preventing a substantive ASEAN course of action. With soft regionalism as a theoretical framework, ASEAN finds itself in a futile position due to its loose structure, coupled with internal fragmentation between ASEAN claimant and non-claimant states, and the factor of domestic politics.

Primary Advisor

Tom Najem

Program Reader

John Sutcliffe

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Political Science

Document Type

Major Research Paper

Convocation Year