The Rise of China – A View from Singapore

 Ng Eng Hen

Singapore’s Defense Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen (right). Photo: U.S. Pacific Fleet/flickr.

In international relations, there exists diplomatic theater and diplomatic facts. A recent example of theater is the agreement between China and the United States to expand their military exchanges and bilateral scientific contacts. The reality, however, is something quite different. The US Department of Defense, for example, continues to comply with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000, which forbids any contact with People’s Liberation Army (PLA) staff members that might result in the “inappropriate exposure” of key US operational plans, dispositions or activities. China’s astronauts, in turn, remain banned from the International Space Station and, more recently, its scientists were prohibited from attending an academic conference at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

At the heart of these prohibitions is the US Congress. Over the past few years it has thwarted the funding for joint Sino-American projects; it has voiced concerns about the potential theft of US space technology; and it played a key role in terminating an exchange program that helped facilitate Sino-America dialogue on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Unsurprisingly, leading American scientists are upset about the missed opportunities that these restrictions represent. Yes, they include missed chances for collaborative research, but they also represent a lost opportunity for each country to gain deeper insights into the long-term strategic interests of each other. » More

From San Francisco to the South China Sea

Chinese Navy ship arrives in Pearl Harbor, September 2006, courtesy of US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

OSAKA – Territorial and maritime disputes among China, Taiwan, and several Southeast Asian countries are roiling the South China Sea region, with little prospect of resolution anytime soon. But the current uneasy status quo may be tenable, so long as the parties embrace serious confidence-building measures through multilateral forums while maintaining effective deterrence vis-à-vis China and a commitment not to use offensive force.

Naturally, China is eager to exclude interference by extra-regional great powers, particularly the United States, preferring bilateral negotiations with weaker regional claimants that it can more easily dominate. Extra-regional powers, however, cite the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea – specifically, the freedom of navigation and the right of innocent passage – to justify their involvement.

Given that the South China Sea disputes stem from overlapping claims to “exclusive economic zones,” not open ocean, the UN convention is not entirely relevant. But another international agreement does provide some guidance for settling these disputes: the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which entered into force in 1952 and officially ended World War II in the Asia-Pacific region. » More

Fishing Wars: Competition for South China Sea’s Fishery Resources

Chinese fishing boat

Chinese fishing boat. Photo: Ian Lloyd/flickr.

The hydrocarbon potential of the South China Sea (SCS) has become a source of tension between the littoral states of the region and, to a certain extent, a number of outside actors. However, the SCS’s significance to global oil and gas supplies is over-hyped. Instead, it is the region’s fisheries rather than fossil fuels that have the potential to ignite a regional conflict.

Fish not fuel

Put simply, speculation that the SCS constitutes a ‘second Persian Gulf’ lacks substance. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the region’s offshore energy resources – at just over 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – are comparable to European supplies. Contrary to popular belief, most of SCS’s oil and gas resources are actually located in non-disputed territory, closer to the shores of coastal states. Factors such as technological challenges, inadequate seismic studies, plus huge costs and political risks also place serious limits on deep-water drilling farther into the SCS. » More

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Stormy Waters? The Maritime Border Disputes between Bolivia, Chile and Peru

Map of the maritime claims of Ecuador, Peru, and surrounding countries. Source: Political Geography Now via Wikimedia Commons

International boundaries are often blurred by the processes of globalization, but in South America some maritime borders remain contested. For instance, Chile and Peru, neighbors that have enjoyed sustained economic development over the past few years, remain at odds over approximately 38,000 square kilometers of sea located along their maritime border.

Bilateral negotiations between the two countries were first held in 1980 but no agreement was reached. In 2008, Peru took the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which, in turn, considered the issue at a public hearing in December 2012. The ICJ is expected to make a ruling on the dispute in mid-2013.

In the meantime, Peru continues to argue that the maritime border has not yet been defined by any agreement, with documents signed in the 1950s only relating to access to fishing grounds.  Lima also claims that maritime limits should run diagonally south-west from the land border. » More

Calming Colombia and Nicaragua’s Murky Waters

Disputed-maritime-border between Nicaragua and Colombia. Image by Tim Rogers/ Nicaragua Dispatch.

After being on the backburner for over three decades, The Hague is finally ruling on a spat between Colombia and Nicaragua over a set of islands that includes San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina in the Caribbean Sea. While Nicaragua will argue that the border between the states should be located between its coast and Colombia’s—and not be defined by the 82nd meridian—there is little chance that Nicaragua will succesfully claim sovereignty over the entire archipelago, and the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision by the end of 2012 will set an important precedent for maritime disputes across Latin America.

Aside from deciding where the new border will be, the real focus of the dispute will center on the inhabitants of the islands, who have chosen for over a century to be part of Colombia. A clear ruling would not only settle the difference between these two countries, but also help encourage long-overdue development and security. This will hopefully allow the islands to enjoy the wealth of the region’s untapped natural resources. It should also act as an important model for other such border disputes when two countries can’t reach a mutual agreement, something ICJ encourages before filing claims at the higher court. » More

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