From ANTARCTICA to Underwater treasure hunt.... from South China Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean to the Malvinas.....
The announcement by the Chinese government that one of its manned submarines dived 12,330 feet to the South China Sea floor to plant the Chinese national flag has dramatically heightened international competition for the mineral-rich water body. Beijing’s disclosure of the symbolic act has perturbed rival claimants from Southeast Asia for the Sea’s bountiful fishing grounds and untapped oil, natural gas, tin, manganese and other precious commodities.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia contest China’s definition of its territorial waters as including islands in the South China Sea that are launch pads for drilling and extracting maritime treasures. China’s mastery of submersible vehicle technology to indulge in nationalistic provocation on the seabed is racking nerves of the region’s smaller powers.
No one is left in doubt that China is ratcheting up military capability to establish a fait accompli on securing domination over the Sea’s vast energy resources and vital shipping lanes. Earlier this year, the PLA dropped a doctrinal bombshell in foreign policy by designating the South China Sea as a “core national interest” over which it has “indisputable sovereignty”, on par in weight with Tibet and Taiwan.
Such uncompromising language over a water span whose boundary delineation is still up for grabs has been accompanied by growing assertiveness of the Chinese navy to project power over the entire Sea. Earlier, Beijing warned Exxon Mobil and BP to halt exploration in offshore oil blocks of the Sea that Vietnam counts as falling within its domain. China has threatened multinational corporations that recognize other states’ jurisdictions in the Sea with negative repercussions for their wider business interests on the mainland.
The US has also jumped headlong into the water conflict. Last month, Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows in Beijing by terming resolution of the scrimmage as “a leading diplomatic priority” in order to ensure “regional stability” and “unimpeded commerce”. By endorsing a multilateral solution that the US will presumably broker, Clinton assured Southeast Asian states that their weakness in relation to China can be offset by the involvement of a sympathetic facilitator that is militarily more powerful than China.
American emphasis on a large-group modus operandi to reach a mutually satisfactory accord on the South China Sea is music to ears in Manila, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, who are wary of being short-changed by China. In the process, western oil corporations will gain breathing space against what they perceive as the big Chinese bully, which wants to dictate the space and conditions under which they can operate.
With the US continuing to maintain the most powerful navy around the South China Sea, China has countered by fast-tracking its massive shipbuilding programme and unveiling a new anti-aircraft carrier missile targeted at American warships patrolling these waters. Intense gunboat diplomacy is in the offing, particularly due to China’s voracious demand for industrial minerals to endlessly power its economic juggernaut.
A very similar scramble for deep water riches is simultaneously revving up in the far northern reaches of the Arctic Sea, which is believed to be a repository of 25% or more of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves. Amply endowed with petroleum, fishing stocks and manganese, the Sea is now under political siege, with the US, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway advancing claims on its stretches as their respective “internal waters”.
The array of forces thus far has suggested that the US and Canada, in a reprise of Cold War-era patterns, are aligning to deter a determined push by Russia to enlarge its continental shelf and gain access to the wealth hidden beneath the frozen but rapidly warming waters of the North Pole. In 2007, presaging China’s latest adventure in the South China Sea, a Russian submarine expedition descended to the seabed of the Arctic and planted the Russian national flag. Canada and the US responded by dispatching icebreaker ships and robotic equipment to map the oceanic floor and “set the record straight”on which country can claim how much as its national possession.
Last week, international tension resurfaced with a bang when two Russian aerial bombers were intercepted by Canadian military jets on the eve of the Canadian Prime Minister’s inspection of an Arctic exercise in disputed waters. This occurred right after Ottawa declared that it has made quick settlement of Arctic quarrels with the US and Denmark its “top priority”.
Meanwhile, Russia and Norway closed ranks in April 2010 by burying their 30-year-old bilateral marine tussle in the Arctic. Norway’s formidable energy major and the world’s biggest offshore petroleum company, Statoil, was the leading force behind the rapprochement owing to synergies between its business plans and those of the state-owned Russian firm, Gazprom.
Like in the South China Sea, diplomatic face-offs and reconciliations in the Arctic are traceable to the shifting calculations of energy corporations, which are always at the forefront of conducting surveys, estimating the net worth of marine resources and alerting their respective governments to stake out national zones for their exploitation. With offshore drilling technology headed towards prospecting ever deeper inside oceans, inter-state marine discord is a proxy for corporate turf wars over strategic raw materials. The formulae for an amicable end to such complex tussles exist as much in boardroom tactics as in diplomatic powwows.
The author is associate professor of world politics at the OP Jindal Global University.....
La face cachée du pétrole (1/2)
La face cachée du pétrole (2/2)