Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Solve maritime disputes before they mushroom

There is now justifiable concern that without careful mediation or new international agreements, maritime resource wars could precede military conflict.

Nobody is certain how much oil and gas is under the South China Sea, exactly, but the shoreline states are competing with increasing rancour to assert their national claims to it. Resolving this complicated multiparty dispute peacefully and fairly would be in the interests of all, but unfortunately there is no guarantee of that result.

Around the world, recent advances in undersea exploration and oil extraction have led to major new finds. For that reason many aquatic boundary disputes have taken on new significance. In the Arctic, the eastern Mediterranean and the East China Sea, to name a few others, disagreements once almost moribund have become hot issues. There is now justifiable concern that without careful mediation or new agreements, in these and other places, resource disputes could precede military conflict.

The South China Sea is perhaps the most complicated case, involving overlapping claims from China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. China claims almost all of the 3.5 million square kilometre sea, which is traversed annually by much of the world's merchant fleet. National rivalries and resentments old and new make the South China Sea squabble more challenging for diplomats. Military incidents and stand-offs have not been rare in recent decades, especially as China has unilaterally asserted de facto control in some areas.

In July, at the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (which does not include China) only Cambodia blocked adopting a closing statement critical of China; this month China announced $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) in new grants and soft loans for Cambodia.

In 2002, China and Asean agreed to a non-binding "declaration of conduct" for behaviour on disputed waters. Asean is pressing for a more substantive, binding "code of conduct" but China has little incentive to have its hands tied. US support for a new code, voiced again this month by the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has not increased China's interest. China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, spoke at the weekend of "direct negotiation". But he also reasserted Chinese sovereignty.

With global maritime disputes popping up with increased frequency, the international community must re-commit to frameworks for establishing sea boundaries and handling disputes. Parties to the 1994 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea must ratify it, something the United States, despite chiding China for its actions, has not done. Moreover, nations that have ratified - including China - must adhere to its principles or face sanction. Dispute-settlement processes must be based on international law, not on the rule of the strongest.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Sarah Geronimo. Courtesy: FLASH Entertainment

Sarah Geronimo brings her star power to Abu Dhabi this weekend

Ahead of her Abu Dhabi concert on Thursday night, we take a look at the Filipina singer Sarah Geronimo’s extraordinary career.

 Fatema holds a picture of her son Nurul Karim as she poses for a photograph in front of her slum house in Savar. Fatema lost her son Nurul Karim and her daughter Arifa, who were working on the fifth floor of Rana Plaza when it collapsed on April 24, 2013. All photos Andrew Biraj / Reuters

These women know the real price of cheap high street fashion

Survivors of the world's worst garment factory accident, struggle to rebuild their lives from the rubble of the Rana Plaza collapse as Bangladesh prepares to mark the first anniversary of the disaster.

 Visitors look at the medieval inventor Al Jazari’s water-powered Elephant Clock. The clock is on show at the 1001 Inventions exhibition at Sharjah Expo Centre. Photos Antonie Robertson / The National

1001 Inventions: in praise of Islam’s gifts to the world

Down the centuries, from camera obscura to designing a sail that allowed early seafarers to tack into the wind, Muslim scientists have made many significant contributions to science. Rym Ghazal and Asmaa Al Hameli visit an exhibition in Sharjah that celebrates those contributions

 Mumbai Indians fans cheer they team on the opening match between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2014 at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

Earn cash back with the IPL cricket in the UAE

Dunia finance promotion allows cricket lovers to earn up to 6 per cent unlimited cash back on any spending they make on a day when an IPL match is played in the UAE.

 Iranian workers at the Iran Khodro auto plant in Tehran on March 18. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

Iran’s love of cars survives devastating sanctions

Sanctions and energy subsidy reductions might have hurt the Iranian automotive industry. But car makers at one factory are still optimistic, Yeganeh Salehi reports from Tehran

 This comparison image shown on Reddit annotated the objects with vehicles from the movies.

Disney confirms that Star Wars: Episode 7 is filming in Abu Dhabi desert

Disney yesterday confirmed that the filming of Star Wars: Episode 7 is taking place in the desert in Abu Dhabi.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National