Maritime and Territorial Disputes in the Asia-Pacific Region – IVLP

One of the most hotly contested areas in the world, the South China Sea is rich in natural resources and more than $5 trillion dollars worth of international trade passes through this area every year. There are many claimants over this lucrative region, but there is much debate as to who actually controls this territory.

The World Affairs Council of Seattle recently hosted visitors from the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). This flagship program works to foster mutual understanding between the United States and other nations through the exchange of people and ideas. The visitors in this group all represented claimants in the South China Sea international maritime dispute, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei. Seattle was the final destination for these visitors’ three-week program in the United States, and they made the most of their time by meeting with several University of Washington Maritime and International Law Professors, and a former Coast Guard Captain and current head of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.       

The delegation primarily discussed the importance of conserving and managing the ocean’s natural resources in the most effective manner possible. They agreed that the United States plays a critical role as a world leader in setting an example for the rest of the world to follow. In particular, with one of the University of Washington professors, the delegation stressed the necessity of continued dialogue between claimants. They were especially interested in the conversation between the United States and China.

While maritime protection is of the utmost importance, it can sometimes come into conflict with the demands of international trade. For example, within the South China Sea, there are at least seven nations vying for sovereignty, and that has led to a number of United States battleships patrolling in and around this vital region. While the United States it not an official claimant of the South China Sea, several allied claimants are, and the United States would like to have this critical waterway freely navigable.  

The IVLP visitors will conclude their visit to the United States with a debrief meeting in Hawaii before they return to their homelands. When they return home they will work towards resolving their respective maritime issues. The World Affairs Council looks forward to hearing more about their success and efforts!   

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By Yale Warner. International Visitor Program Intern and

High School Senior at Seattle Academy