Conflicts over specific rules lie at the heart of the disputes, which are about much more than sovereignty over islands and rocks in the South and East China Seas. Instead, the main contests concern the strategic maritime space associated with those islands. To consolidate control over this vital maritime space, China’s leaders have begun to implement “China’s law of the sea”: building domestic legal institutions, bureaucratic organizations, and a naval and maritime law enforcement apparatus to establish China’s preferred maritime rules on the water and in the diplomatic arena.
Isaac B. Kardon is a senior fellow for China studies in the Asia Program. He was formerly assistant professor at the U.S. Naval War College, China Maritime Studies Institute, where he researched China’s maritime affairs, and taught naval officers and national security professionals about PRC foreign and security policy. In his book "China’s Law of the Sea: The New Rules of Maritime Order," he examines China’s laws and policies to defend, exploit, study, administer, surveil, and patrol disputed waters. He also considers other claimants’ reactions to these Chinese practices, because other states must acquiesce for China’s preferences to become international rules. China’s maritime disputes offer unique insights into the nature and scope of China’s challenge to international order.
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