Maritime Security Issues in East Asia
CNA Maritime Asia Project: Workshop Four

Published Date: September 30, 2013

As part of its Maritime Asia project, CNA conducted a joint workshop on maritime security issues in East Asia with the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) Study Group from Yonsei University in Seoul. The purpose of this workshop was to explore the commonalities and contrasts between the U.S. and Korean perspectives on the most pressing security issues in the East Asian maritime domain. The security of the maritime environment is a critical issue for South Korea because it is effectively an island nation: its only land border is with North Korea, which is openly hostile to its very existence. Moreover, its near seas are the thoroughfare by which security threats have approached it in the past and are likely to approach it in the future.

South Korean commercial maritime trading companies and exporters founded the SLOC Study Group in 1981 to conduct research on maritime law, maritime jurisdictional issues, and maritime security and safety. Membership in the SLOC Study Group has since expanded to academic institutions, the South Korean navy, and the South Korean coast guard. The SLOC Study Group also works collaboratively with other maritime-oriented think tanks in South Korea, including the Korean Institute of Maritime Studies (KIMS), with which CNA has a long-standing relationship. Members of the SLOC Study Group regularly participate in bilateral meetings with maritime-oriented think tanks outside of South Korea to exchange views on pressing maritime issues. This was the first such meeting held in the United States.

Participants in this Maritime Asia workshop discussed a broad range of East Asian maritime security topics and, among these, identified flashpoints which could result in open hostilities in the region. The SLOC Study Group’s research interests are very timely topics because of the unresolved maritime boundary disputes in East Asia. This essay summarizes key arguments offered by workshop presenters and raises several points of discussion from this Maritime Asia workshop.

This report begins by examining South Korean security issues related to the maritime domain and covering inter-Korean relations and current issues in the U.S. alliance with South Korea. Next, it discusses East China Sea disputes and the consequent potential for conflict there. Finally, it addresses the prospects for international legal mechanisms to resolve maritime disputes in East Asia.