The number of disputes has risen over the decades in the region known for dynamic economy, competition, rich waters, possible big oil and gas reserves, important international roads, global trade flows, distrust, inability to define territory boundaries and lack of share of information between countries. Various actions, including harassing vessels, blockading islets and shoals and destroying equipment have increased diplomatic tensions.

Many unresolved territorial disputes till this day exists. From the map below we can see that almost all countries in this part of Asia have some unresolved maritime or other long lasting territorial dispute waiting for salvation.

Conflicts in the South and East China’s sea

eam01

Source: Thomas Wright’s “Outlaw of the Sea” in Foreign Affairs.

 

Resources are important drivers of competition in this area. The sea is deep and no official records of oil and natural gas, so far only assumptions exist for the area has not been entirely researched yet but it has great potential. In the rising importance of energy and its price, desire to control this area is also rising. Estimates of reserves differ and reach up to 213 billion barrels of oil and 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which is in oil reserves 10 times the proven US reserves and with natural gas equal to Qatar reserves. Another reason and source of conflict are also fishery resources. All coastal countries have developed fishing industry and with fishing in the disputes waters different incidents such as harassment, confiscation of catches and equipment and also imprisonment of fisherman happen. Many of these areas are being patrolled by coastal guard and local maritime agencies. Another reason for rising tensions has been pointed out and that is China’s rise and evolving regional dynamic. With growing capabilities, globalization and rising economic capabilities is China more and more dependent on other countries to trade and that’s why open access and water corridors to China represents great importance. China’s growing military budget also poses some concerns to other countries in the region. Also growing nationalism has been seen in Asia.

To understand the basis of the conflicts one needs to look way back into the history, international laws, agreements and conventions and last but not least every country’s interpretation for every single conflict alone.

China Sea Territory Disputes

eam02

Source: Money Morning staff research.

 

Spartly islands and Paracel islands are lying in the South China Sea, where the People’s Republic of China makes extensive claims so called “nine-dash line” (claims almost 90% of areas of the South China Sea) seen also on the map above. Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have claims over some part of mentioned territories. China and Vietnam claim they have historic rights. Philippines on the other hand, invoke its geographical proximity. Malaysia and Brunei (does not claim any of the disputed islands) claims of territory have a background in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and their economic exclusive zones. Bigger disputes exist in the South as they do in the East, where have we seen also more escalations and tensions in recent times.

In the East China Sea, China, Japan, and Taiwan each claim a Japan-administered island that Japan calls the Senkakus, China the Diaoyu Islands, and Taiwan the Diaoyutai Islands. The BBC has reported of the importance of the islands in its rich fishery grounds, potential oil and gas reserves, strategic positions and rising competition between the United States and primacy for military primacy in Asia-Pacific region. The dispute over inhabited land began escalating after the United Nations Law of Sea codified access to maritime resources based on control of nearby land features.

The Scarborough Shoal is claimed by China and Taiwan. China defines territory as it’s one based on the line that no other country recognizes. The Philippines filed the case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 but China has refused to take part in the process. Even successful pursue at the United Nation tribunal will not make China obliging by the ruling. This could also have a negative impact in a case of Philippines failure because it will be less likely that other countries in the region that have similar disputes will turn to international institution to resolve their disagreements. Another two disputed in the region are among others The Macclesfield Bank which is claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines and Pratas islands that are claimed by China and Taiwan.

Council of the Foreign Relations has suggested some preemptive potential measures should be made: resource sharing, military – to- military communication, bilateral management of the disputes, dispute resolution mechanisms with third party get involved, International court of justice and international arbitration. Peace and stability should be guaranteed also by ASEAN, which plays an important role in this region. The question lingers is Asia pacific diplomacy going to be able to settle the disputes in Asia-Pacific region?

Teja Palko

Defense Editor

Teja Palko is a Slovenian writer. She finished studies on Master’s Degree programme in Defense Science at the Faculty of Social Science at University in Ljubljana.

Top