East Asia: Stop Squabbling, Start Drilling

East Asia: Stop Squabbling, Start Drilling

As naval patrol vessels of China, Japan, South Korea and other Southeast Asian nations shadow one another and tension mounts, it's time to consider peaceful alternatives. At stake are marine resources and possible large reserves of oil and gas underneath the waters, rocks and shoals claimed by East Asian countries. If a solution can be worked out for sharing the proceeds among concerned parties: Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, China and the Philippines while tactfully avoiding the contentious sovereignty issues, confrontation can be avoided. In the oil industry, border disputes between countries are resolved with joint development areas, or the oil and gas mechanism of "unitization." Essentially, unitization lets each nation access undersea resources that cross borders, but leaves national boundaries, or overlapping claims to boundaries, intact. There's much at stake regarding recent territorial disputes with the Diaoyu/Senkakku Islands between China and Japan and the Spratly/Paracel Islands in the South China Sea overlapping borders with China and ASEAN members. Since 1947 and the revolution, China has linked maritime territorial claims with national sovereignty, pointing to historical maps showing a "9 dotted line" stretching throughout the South China Sea. Through collaboration and unitization, China versus Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and others could develop the resources. But no incumbent government would lose credibility with its citizens over sovereignty rights.

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