China’s new maritime focus ‘not all bad’

Chinese naval ships near James Shoal Photo Navy 81 CN

China has clearly turned its eyes to the sea in its new defence white paper, which for the first time officially suggests ‘safeguarding maritime rights and interests’ and ‘protecting overseas interests’. The fact that Beijing followed up these words with a naval excursion in March to the James Shoal (or Zengmu Reef), the southernmost point of its extensive claim to the South China Sea, has only increased the nervousness among its neighbours as to what its increasingly dominant presence in regional waters will mean.

But, IISS Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security Christian Le Miere counsels in a new piece for the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin, China’s ‘return to the sea’ may not be all negative.

Beijing’s renewed naval focus has prompted a reorganisation of its maritime agencies, ‘merging four of the five “dragons” that have been at the forefront of its ongoing sovereignty disputes in the South and East China Seas’. With a unified command, our senior fellow argues, there is a clearer sense of who to call to ensure disagreements do not escalate. Similarly, Beijing will not be able to disavow the actions of its agencies.

Furthermore, ‘it is possible that China’s increasing strength could be directed towards beneficial outcomes’. Given its desire to ensure the security of shipping, for example, Beijing could be encouraged to assist in policing international maritime thoroughfares. Since its return to the sea is inevitable, encouraging Beijing to subscribe to current international maritime laws may be the best way forward.

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The two Sudans: still stuck in oil dispute

South Sudanese President Salvar Kiir and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Photo Sudan Vision

By Islam Al Tayeb, Research Analyst, IISS-Middle East

More than 18 months after South Sudan seceded from Sudan, oil remains a sticking point between the two countries. Last week, the stalemate appeared as intractable as ever, with South Sudan announcing plans to sell petroleum to Israel, and politicians in Khartoum vowing that no South Sudanese exports would reach Israel via Sudanese territory. A meeting between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir before an African Union conference in Ethiopia this weekend (above) failed to break months of deadlock. There has now been no oil production in, or exports, from South Sudan for a year, depriving the government in Juba of around 98% of its budgeted revenues.

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Oil is key to Falklands’ future

UK military assets in the Falklands region

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

It has been a busy year for oil and gas exploration around the Falklands Islands, and also a crucial moment for the islanders’ economy. Speaking at the IISS in London, Jan Cheek, member of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council of the Falkland Islands, explained how the islands’ government is counting on oil revenues to develop and diversify the economy of this remote archipelago. Though the exploratory drilling that had taken place in 2012 had disappointed investors, she described herself as ‘cautiously optimistic about the future’, amid a diplomatic offensive by Argentina to exert its claim over the islands. Read the rest of this entry »


Why Asia is arguing over its islands

U.S. Marines and Philippine Marines advance to the beach during an amphibious beach assault exercise for Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines 2012. CARAT is a series of bilateral military exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Aaron Glover/Released)

By Christian Le Mière, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

It still amazes me how much media interest there currently is in the various maritime disputes of Asia. Five years ago, to find information on these then-obscure disagreements over tiny pieces of land required diligence and patience. Now, and in particular since the much-vaunted U.S. pivot to Asia, every week seems to bring new stories about these islands.

It is therefore worth our taking a step back and asking how we got here. What have been the drivers for the maritime disputes over the past five years, do they share any similarities, and why, when these disputes have existed for decades, have they become so tense now? Read the rest of this entry »


Latin America and the illusion of peace

The security architecture of Latin American is inadequate to prevent further military escalation in the region, said Professor David Mares at the IISS-US launch of the Adelphi Book, Latin America and the Illusion of Peace. Mares, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego argued that Latin American nations must find different options for building a better architecture that would make the threat of force an unacceptable option and stress the necessity of Latin America as a zone of peace. He was joined at the launch by Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, who offered a more optimistic outlook for peace in the region.

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