New drivers needed to move South China Sea cooperation

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-19 12:20:00

Editor's Note:

Disputes over the South China Sea stand in the way of regional development. Cooperation over the resources such as gas and oil has been advocated for years, with little progress. What factors can push cooperation forward? Will environmental factors play a role? At the recent symposium on "Recent Development of the South China Sea Dispute and Prospects of Joint Development Regime" in Haikou, Hainan Province, three scholars explored multilateral ways to achieve joint development of the South China Sea.

Illustration: Liu Rui
Illustration: Liu Rui

Environment can be driving force

Hong Nong, associate professor and deputy director of the Research Center for Oceans Law and Policy at National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou

Joint development has been greatly discussed recently, but so far most successful cases can only be found in bilateral cooperation. And the involvement of outside powers has made the disputes even more complex.

Under such circumstances, environmental security may be a driving force for cooperation in the South China Sea. Environmental interdependence is both a source of conflict and a potential for international cooperation. Although marine environmental problems are not at the top of the agenda of most South China Sea countries, if they are defined as a security matter, political actors will be more focused on it.

The states around the South China Sea are to a large degree interdependent when it comes to questions of marine development. If they cannot find common solutions to environmental problems, they may end up in violent conflicts against each other.

There is a contradiction between environmental considerations and international cooperation to countries involved in the disputes over the South China Sea. However, on the other hand, they also emphasize vital national interests and sovereignty. Against this background, environmental security may force these countries to cooperate.

Fairness comes first

Jay L Batongbacal, professor from College of Law at University of the Philippines

Recent developments have established conditions that run directly opposite to the path of functional cooperation and joint development in the South China Sea. Despite initial success in calming this region, current policy appears to have reached a limit for the moment and unilateral decisions seem to have become a norm.

So advocates of joint development have to show stakeholders that it is worthwhile. It must show benefits which are more than the costs. But the costs of joint development are not the same for every country. Issues of fairness cannot be well addressed, which stands in the way of joint development.

Take transportation costs. Assuming resources are found, what are the costs of transporting these resources to the market? Claimants' distance from the prospect areas are different so the costs are also different. As a result, some countries may not want to cooperate with others on the joint development of this area. Similar problem can also be found in fisheries. These differences challenge joint development.

Therefore, any future proposal focusing on joint development must address the fairness issue. Also, a cost analysis should be published. To really achieve the joint development, various coastal states have to retreat from the mutually-undesirable outcome of conflict.

Technical approach can help

Rommel C. Banlaoi, program manager of South China Sea Studies Program at Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research

Joint development is something that all claimants want to pursue in order to peacefully manage the maritime territorial conflict in the South China Sea.

However, differences among claimants obstruct joint development in the South China Sea and difficulties in the operational definitions and specific aspects of implementation make this issue highly problematic. If claimants remain hardline, it will be difficult to achieve the goal of joint development.

If governments of the claimants can de-politicize the South China Sea disputes by encouraging functional cooperation among experts, scientists, academics and other technical people, there are prospects for them to pursue joint development.

Marine scientists in China and ASEAN claimants involved in various types of research in the South China Sea can contribute to the management of conflicts in the South China Sea. Cooperation between the Philippines and Vietnam on maritime and ocean concerns provides exemplary practices on how a potential conflict area can be an area of cooperation with potential benefits. Sino-Vietnamese fishery cooperation in the Gulf of Tonkin also offers some good lessons.

This kind of functionalism provides an alternative approach to facilitate the creation of joint development in the South China Sea. It upholds an incremental process which can facilitate the peaceful management of territorial conflicts in the South China Sea by promoting cooperation among different kinds of people.

In conclusion, functional cooperation is a way ahead for the South China Sea.

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