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New Left Review 80, March-April 2013

peter nolan


China, Western Colonialism and the Law of the Sea

Since September 2012, the Western media have been filled with reports about China’s high-profile dispute with Japan over a group of tiny uninhabited islands, the Diaoyu (in Chinese) or Senkaku (in Japanese), on the edge of the South China Sea. The media have made frequent reference to Beijing’s territorial claims there, widely held to be part of a pattern of ‘bullying behaviour’ in the region; some commentators have suggested that the dispute may even trigger a new Peloponnesian War in the Pacific. [1] See, for example, Graham Allison, ‘Thucydides’s trap has been sprung in the Pacific’, Financial Times, 21 August 2012. The territory in question is of historical and strategic significance, and it may well possess substantial natural resources, to which the prc would gain access if its claims were successful. However, the resources of the South China Sea need to be seen in comparative perspective with those obtained by the us and the former European colonial powers through the enactment of the un Convention on the Law of the Sea (unclos).

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Peter Nolan, ‘Imperial Archipelagos’, NLR 80: £3

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