Fishing the ‘Last Frontier’: Navigating Overlapping Boundaries in the South China Sea

Authors: Dylan Beatty*, University of Hawaii - Manoa
Topics: Political Geography, China, Geographic Theory
Keywords: Borders, ocean-governance, fishers, Southeast Asia, Philippines
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Studio 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Arguably the most complex security issue in the world today is the geopolitical dispute in the South China Sea. Six different states—Brunei, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam—claim sections of or all of the South China Sea. Fishers in Palawan, Philippines operate near the Spratly Islands, the epicenter of this complicated conflict, while the increasing militarization of this ocean-space challenges a legal solution to the dispute. Interviews of fishers in Palawan inform this research. Fishing practices and situational territorialities create local mental maps of the Spratly Islands that often differ from state imaginaries of the region. With widespread poverty in Palawan and limited state-power, local communities oftentimes create alternative networks and economies. Furthermore, the everyday politics of fishers challenge performative sovereignties of states in the region. This research provides new spaces to theorize ocean-governance and the expansion of China’s power in maritime Southeast Asia.

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