Sharing South China Sea cake can mean bigger slices for all

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-12 13:40:00

Editor's Note:

A symposium on "Recent Developments in the South China Sea Disputes and Prospects of Joint Development Regime" was held by the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, Hainan Province on December 6-7. About 80 scholars and experts from more than 10 countries and regions participated in the symposium. What ways forward did they see for the region? How can nationalism be damped down and cooperation enhanced?


Illustration: Liu Rui
Illustration: Liu Rui

Cooperation tough

Ralf Emmers, associate professor and coordinator of the multilateralism and regionalism programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

Natural resources and energy needs have traditionally influenced the foreign policy objectives of states. When considering the finite nature of such resources, the implications for conflict are obvious. The South China Sea has fishing and hydrocarbon resources. Its expected oil and gas reserves also make it more important.

However, because of the absence of a cooperative agreement and the lack of guarantee of commercial success, companies do not want to invest in the disputed areas and prefer the disputes over maritime delimitation be resolved first. Because of this, joint development is hard to achieve.

Even all parties agree with the joint development, there are also risks for them because if the size of the oil and gas reserves is ever determined, the disputants still have to decide on how to share these commodities. To prevent such a scenario from occurring, a clearly negotiated and specific joint development agreement is needed.

Also, nationalism and regional competition are rising, making joint development schemes much harder to negotiate and implement. We need first a de-escalation of nationalist sentiments and a stable distribution of power. But this is unlikely in the coming years.

Skewed perspectives

Mark J. Valencia, US maritime policy analysts and political commentator

The US would like to maintain the status quo in which it is the dominant actor and patron in Southeast Asia. It also wants to enhance the military power of allies like the Philippines and potential allies like Indonesia. It expects Southeast Asian states to fear China and to welcome US power.

However, it seems that China clearly does not think the US is neutral in the disputes. China does not want to maintain the so-called status quo because it will lead to the US being dominant in the security arena. From China's perspective, ASEAN is not the place to resolve the South China Sea disputes because these disputes are only between China and some ASEAN members, instead of all of them.

Southeast Asian countries are concerned that the South China Sea situation may get out of hand. ASEAN countries are divided on how to proceed. The attitudes and actions of China and the US also have a big influence on them. From their perspective, the worst scenario is that the US-China rivalry will feed upon itself, becoming a serious ideological and political struggle dominating the issues, and splitting ASEAN while subordinating its "centrality" in security. The whole affair seems to have become an embarrassment to ASEAN countries.

Sharing the cake

Liu Feng, associate research fellow from the National Institute for South China Sea Studies

There have been lots of disputes over the South China Sea but dialogues and cooperation are the only ways to solve them. All sides involved will benefit from the joint development of the South China Sea.

The South China Sea seems like a cake which all sides around it want to own. However, the current cake is too small.

For my part, all sides should get together to explore the possibility of joint development arrangement and achieve cooperation and mutual understanding. The cake will be made much bigger by these actions. Then a win-win situation will be achieved for all.

Put disputes aside

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies

At the moment, when disputes over the sovereignty of the islands and waters jurisdiction cannot be solved any time soon, putting aside disputes and pursuing joint development will be the best choice, which matches the interests of all parties involved, for a long time to come. This will help enhance the foundations of cooperation and avoid intensification of conflicts and strategic miscalculation.

Joint development requires all parties to seek common ground while reserving differences. The dilemma of geopolitical competition and disputes over the waters should be broken and practical strategies should be developed. Also, we should strengthen institution building based on the background of joint development of the South China Sea.

There have already been successful cases of joint development of resources in disputed areas worldwide. We can learn from the existing methods of regional cooperative development and apply the lessons to the issues of feasibility and applicability of the joint development of the South China Sea.

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