On Tuesday 7th April, the ANU ASEAN Society hosted their first public lecture of the year, “Prospects and Perspectives on the South China Sea Dispute”. The ANU ASEAN Society invited Professor Leszek Buszynski, Dr Andrew Carr, and Thanh Hai Do to provide a regional understanding of the dispute and reflect upon the perspectives of the US, Vietnam, Australia and the ASEAN states.

Described by Professor Buszynski as one of the most dangerous flashpoints in East Asia, the South China Sea involves a multi-state dispute over two island chains; the Paracels, and the Spratlys, large ocean areas, and a number of uninhabited atolls, reefs, sandbanks, and rocky outcrops.

The area is thought to have large reserves of natural resources and according to Professor Buszynski, “the area contains some 80 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves”. Additionally, the area is one of the world’s busiest sea-lanes.

Thanh emphasised that both China and Vietnam have extensive undefined claims regarding the sovereignty of the islands and the surrounding territory. Additionally, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia have claims to the area. However, the real danger of the dispute stems from the involvement of China, the US and now Russia’s involvement in the area.

Over the course of the presentations, the three speakers sought to directly engage and enhance the audience’s understanding of the lecture. Professor Buszynski and Dr Carr explored the power dynamics in the area. China’s recent construction of naval bases at Mischief Reef near the Spratly Islands was used as an example. Both experts contrasted China’s expansionist interests, with the sovereign claims held by the ASEAN states within the Spratly Islands and the US move towards area-wide stability and Chinese containment.

Thanh’s presentation dealt with Vietnam’s approach to the South China Sea. By providing Vietnam’s perspective, Thanh showed Russia’s movement toward extending its influence within South East Asia, a strategy made evident through Russia’s increased access to Cam Ranh Bay.