Monday, June 20, 2011

David vs Goliath: Leviathan vs Sprat(ly)

While most eyes are on the current Middle East disruptions, tension boils closer to home in the resource-rich Spratly Islands.
Several countries claim parts of this area – Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Taiwan, Philippines – while China greedily wants the lot!
Known as the South China Sea, each country calls it something else, reflecting their own claims.
Whatever its named, there’s not much there: with 250+ largely uninhabitable tiny islets where fishermen shelter. It’s what’s beneath that everyone covets: huge oil, mineral and gas reserves. The sea is also a major shipping route.
Decades of sabre-rattling escalated lately as China and Malaysia sent their biggest patrol ships on “routine” trips into the area, while Vietnam staged a live-fire exercise. Minor constructions and beacons have been erected and subsequently torn down by various navies – just to show they can.
Vietnam calls its sovereignty claim incontestable, and announced a new military draft (the first since the 1979 Vietnam/China border war, which China lost). There’s growing concern that tensions may soon lead to gunfire. Last year, USA said maintaining stability was in its national interests, something Beijing yawned at but Hanoi may welcome now. Just this weekend, USA and Vietnam jointly called for freedom of navigation and rejected any use of force in the South China Sea. The irony of Vietnam – a past foe – seeking American support in this dispute has not been lost...
A solution perhaps is ASEAN (Assn.of SE Asian Nations)establishing an EU-type arrangement, whereby all claimants work together in a collective. Even then, the argument would be fair wealth distribution.
But currently no country shows any sign of backing down from their claims, and the roll-out of China’s first aircraft carrier (albeit a refurbished second-hand Russian one) must surely ‘up the ante’.

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