Tuesday, 5 May 2015

New Tensions in the World's Most Pirated Waters

After the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane on 8 March 2014 started an investigation assisted by eight countries – Malaysia, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It was a tragedy. Nonetheless the immoderate, international support was not accounted by established relations of Malaysia, but rather self-motivated trough remarkable oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea. Of course, all efforts were dedicated to the detection, however, it is reasonable to assume that additional research took place. Usually, any research in the South China Sea is prohibited due to unsettled boundaries and ongoing disputes over the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
From a business standpoint, the interest makes a lot of sense regarding to estimated oil reserves of 28 billion barrels and 266 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Moreover, a third of global shipping moves through the Strait of Malacca and Singapore every year and nearly all transportations of crude oil from the Persian Gulf to the Asian economies like South Korea, China, and Japan.

Maps: US Energy Information Administration, International Hydrographic Organization
Furthermore, the strategically important region provides 10% of global fisheries catch. All these developments led to an increasing number of attacks. There were 125 reported pirate attacks in the South China Sea in 2013, which triple the number of 2009. For comparison, the attacks over the same period around the Horn of Africa decreased from 197 to 13. Generally speaking, the competing territorial claims over the South China Sea is a dispute between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia. It is a number of countries with different claims and obviously a fertile soil for serious trouble. On 1 May 2014, tensions between China and Vietnam heated up to an exaggerated battle with water cannons by naval and Cost Guard vessels. Thousands of Vietnamese protesters went to the street and burned factories, which presented any connection to China. The main reason was China's deployment of an oil rig and escorting ships in the South China Sea to maintain the claim of the 'nine-dash line' that is by far the largest part, covering 90% of the territory.
The latest series of pictures released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C. show Beijing's seriousness through new installed supply platforms and docking facilities on artificial land formations, aptly called Mischief reef. Considering several photographs over weeks, indicating the island is growing bigger. A special image from 1 February 2015 pointed out a Chinese amphibious transport vessel is only some hundred metres from the reef entrance and close to the Philippines. CSIS stated such a ship is capable of carrying around 800 troops or 20 armoured vehicles.
So, China sends a message, which assumes that nobody will take action against it. But those actions violate the “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” and the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” from 2002 in collaboration with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). But nevertheless, the stronghold of China's firepower suppresses the main opponents from Vietnam and the Philippines and provokes ASEAN's restraint and could result in international interventions.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter as well as Admiral Harry B. Harris accused China and mentioned concerns for prospective diplomatic solutions.
By Tim Lenke, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  

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