Categories
International Relations Security Regional Stability

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.

Categories
International Relations

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.