Analyzing the Causes and Effects of the South China Sea Dispute: Natural Resources and Freedom of Navigation

Adam Fenton, Christine Elizabeth Macaraig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose—The South China Sea dispute illustrates the confluence of competing interests on an international scale. The first half of the article examines the role of natural resources in driving the dispute. The second half of the article presents a legal analysis of the dispute using the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as a benchmark against which to examine China’s academic manoeuvring.
Design/Methodology/Approach—The paper presents an original analysis and assessment of the driving factors and legal ramifications of the dispute using secondary data.
Findings—While natural resources are an important driver, equally important are the military, geo-strategic aspects of the near total military dominance of China in the South China Sea, despite reports that the country would refrain from activities that would aggravate the dispute.
Practical Implications—Both access to natural resources and the strategic gains of controlling access through the South China Sea are driving the Chinese Communist Party to continue to pursue its claims in the South China Sea.
Originality/Value—The paper considers both the exclusive access to natural resources as a driving factor as well as the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to challenge established concepts of international law in order to legitimize the claim to large swathes of territory in the SCS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-58
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Territorial and Maritime Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • freedom of navigation
  • natural resources
  • South China Sea


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