Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Carving Up the East China Sea

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Carving Up the East China Sea

Article excerpt

As the primitive society pushed ahead and the population of clan groups increased, the balance between the material requirements of the clan groups and the total quantity of the natural materials for living in their localities was upset... resulting in the earliest form of war of human society.

THE SCIENCE OF MILITARY STRATEGY

The dispute over the continental shelf in the East China Sea... is a battle of energy and a battle of geography. It is a fight for the benefit of the ocean, and it is a contest for development of a country and the destiny of its people.

JIANCHUAN ZHISHI

It is a timeless and fundamental question: Must competition for scarce resources inevitably lead to conflict? Today, that age-old question is often asked in reference to the many sites in the world's oceans in which neighboring coastal states are shouldering each other for the authority to claim the potentially vast sources of hydrocarbons embedded in the continental shelf and the fishing rights to the waters above it.1

With more than a billion people to feed and a surging economy that demands ever more energy, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has become one of the world's fiercest competitors for the ocean's resources. China's oil consumption, already the second largest in the world after the United States, is forecast by some to grow to 590 million metric tons in 2020 (up from 220 million tons in 2000), nearly three-quarters of which will be imported by that time. By some estimates, gas and oil deposits in the central area of the East China Sea could go a long way to alleviating the energy deficit the country faces: the Chunxiao Natural Gas Development Project, an area of hydrocarbon exploitation by the Chinese, is publicly estimated to contain a reserve of 65.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 12.7 million tons of oil.4 This development project, which involves American and European oil companies as minority stakeholders, lies in the heart of the disputed zone in the East China Sea. China has accommodated and cooperated to develop disputed areas with several other of its maritime neighbors and even to resolve some of those disputes amicably-most notably those with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, with whom it shares overlapping claims in the South China Sea; nonetheless, the competition between China and Japan over the resources in the East China Sea remains confrontational, causing some concern that the competition for regional predominance between these two powerful nations could spark armed conflict if not carefully managed.7

In the recent statements of Chinese leaders-such as the conciliatory meeting in early August 2006 with the Chinese ambassador to Japan, Wang Yi-and in the recent decrease in Chinese research in the disputed zone, there are glimmers of hope that China will pursue policies of cooperation with Japan. Additionally, China reopened talks with Japan in July 2006 to attempt to resolve competing claims to the gas reserves in the East China Sea. In the South China Sea, by contrast, China completed cooperative development agreements with Vietnam and the Philippines in March 2005; it did so again recently with Malaysia, in a manner that implicitly accepts Malaysian, rather than Chinese, sovereignty over the disputed portion of the South China Sea. These latter decisions reflect Beijing's active wooing of support from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members as part of its "peaceful rise" strategy.12 However, the strategic situation between China and Japan is significantly different. Even with China's accelerated economic development, Japan still possesses the secondlargest economy in the world and consumes a proportional share of global petroleum resources-resources China may also need to continue its economic rise and the rejuvenated international status it desires. More important, however, is the fact that Beijing sees Tokyo as a potential rival for predominance in Southeast Asia, a perception that despite a recent thaw in relations makes the possibility of long-term cooperation and compromise in the East China Sea less likely. …

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