Legalism, Developmentalism and Securitization: The Case of Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea

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There is an implicit, but untested, assumption in the theory of securitization that securitization of an issue area is, in general, a problem, as it rules the issue area outside the reach of democratic accountability, and brings in the privilege of state-centered, militaristic thinking. In this chapter, such an assumption is tested in the case of territorial disputes of the South China Sea. Furthermore the chapter will look at the way in which developmentalist discourses have changed, and how legalistic framing could change the strategic debate in East Asia with regards, to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. While the theory of securitization has so far suggested that “security” cannot be “unspoken” the analysis of this chapter shows that alternative framing that is in practice incompatible with the security framing, could actively desecuritize issues that have been seen as security issues. Finally, the chapter will reveal the way in which the desecuritization of territorial disputes makes territorial disputes less dangerous. Empirical evidence will be shown about this in the case of developmentalist desecuritization, while the treatment of opportunities to frame territorial disputes in legal terms will be more speculative.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPower Politics in Asia’s Contested Waters
Subtitle of host publicationTerritorial Disputes in the South China Sea
EditorsEnrico Fels, Truong-Minh Vu
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2016


  • Securitiazation
  • Speech acts
  • South China Sea


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