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China-Philippine Joint Explorations: The Future of Competition and Cooperation in the South China Sea Open Access

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The South China Sea has long been a region of competition and tension. In the Spratly Islands alone, Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam maintain disputing claims to the region’s land features and surrounding maritime territories. Some argue that ongoing negotiations between China and the Philippines toward joint explorations of one of these disputed regions could be the key to promoting greater cooperation amongst the other claimants. These arguments, however, do not consider other elements of the international system that drive states to compete. Looking specifically at China, the Philippines, and the United States, this thesis analyzes joint explorations within the framework of motivational realism to understand the interaction of relevant historical elements, state objectives, and state estimations of one another’s power, offense-defense balance, and motives – greedy or security-seeking. The thesis then examines the specific case of joint explorations to understand historical, domestic, and international legal components restricting the pathways within which the two states could reach an agreement. Finally, this thesis concludes that, due to domestic constraints, international legal developments, state objectives, and the way in which China, the Philippines, and the United States assess one another’s motives, the South China Sea will likely remain a region of long-term competition and tension.

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