Natural resource trends topped international headlines in 2012 – from illicit resource trade in Afghanistan to energy competition in the South China Sea. Which ones should readers track in 2013? Here’s a list of the five international trends I’ll be watching in 2013, in no particular order.
India’s interest in the South China Sea is getting more attention. Last year, The Times of India reported that India’s offshore Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh would work with Vietnam to jointly explore for oil and natural gas resources in the South China Sea. Despite warnings from China – which has made sovereign claims to the entire South China Sea and its energy resources – India and Vietnam have pressed ahead with joint development, leading to increased tensions between China, India and Vietnam.
Last Friday, Vietnam lodged a complaint with China when two Chinese fishing boats reportedly blocked a Vietnamese seismic survey vessel that caused the ship’s cables to snap. The latest episode is just another in a string of incidents where Chinese fishing boats have blocked attempts by Vietnam and other countries to survey for natural gas and oil deposits. (Track these incidents using the CNAS Flashpoint timeline feature here.) The latest incident also comes on the heels of an announcement from China’s Hainan Province last week warning that provincial police would be permitted to board and search vessels violating China’s territorial waters, including in contested areas.
In response to the most recent attempt by Chinese fishermen to block Vietnam’s seismic surveying, Vietnamese officials said that the government would step up defensive patrols, including deploying marine police, to protect against future Chinese encroachment. India seemed to respond in kind, according to a New York Times report, saying “it would consider sending navy vessels to protect its interests in the South China Sea.”
Territorial claims over the South China Sea took an interesting turn last week.
According to a report from Reuters, China’s new passports have raised the eyebrows of several South China Sea claimants: the country’s microchip-equipped passports contain a map of China’s claim over the South China Sea – represented by the country’s disputed nine-dash line.
The Philippines and Vietnam have condemned the Chinese passports, worrying that accepting the documents could legitimize China’s diplomatic claim over the sea. According to Reuters, “The map means countries disputing the Chinese claims will have to stamp microchip-equipped passports of countless visitors, in effect acquiescing to the Chinese point of view.”
"The Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash lines in the e-passport as such image covers an area that is clearly part of the Philippines' territory and maritime domain," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said last week, according to Reuters.
China’s Foreign Ministry responded to questions about the passports, stating, "The passports' maps with their outlines of China are not targeting a specific country. China is willing to actively communicate with the relevant countries and promote the healthy development of Sino-foreign personnel exchanges.”
For those who did not tune in last week, this is a new feature to highlight the top tweets of the week to hit my Twitter feed (@wmrogers). The list is completely subjective, of course, but I hope it is helpful to readers interested in following natural security news a little bit closer.
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published a compilation of polls on the environment and energy, highlighting public opinion on a range of issues, from nuclear energy, the Keystone XL pipeline to global climate change. The findings are instructive, but I don’t necessarily agree with the analysis that AEI makes about some of the issues. For example, the report notes that “Global warming doesn’t rank at or near the top of issues people want the president and Congress to address. In January 2012, 25 percent said global warming should be a top priority, ranking at the bottom in terms of top priorities.” But read another way, a quarter of Americans find that global climate change should be the top priority for U.S. policymakers. Given the litany of challenges the country faces, isn’t it still substantial that 25 percent of Americans want action taken to address climate change and consider it a top priority? Regardless, the report is worth a read and you can make up your own mind about what it all means.
Professor Fravel tweets that India will continue to cooperate with Vietnam to exploit energy resources in Vietnam’s East Sea (also known as the South China Sea), despite objections from China. This has been a huge source of tension recently between India and China. China objects to “outsiders” getting engaged in the South China Sea dispute – an area that China claims is its territorial sea. (To learn more, read this post I wrote in September on India’s South China Sea gambit.)
This weekend’s news highlighted several ongoing territorial disputes across the Indo-Pacific region, from resource-rich Kashmir to the potentially hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea.
On the far West of the Indo-Pacific, The New York Times published a report on Sunday drawing attention to the Siachen Glacier and the intractable territorial dispute between Indian and Pakistan over Kashmir. The report comes on the heels of an avalanche last week that buried 138 Pakistani soldiers and civilians. “In outposts up to 22,000 feet above sea level, the temperature can plunge to 58 below, and linger there for months,” The New York Times reported. “Patrolling soldiers tumble into yawning crevasses. Frostbite chews through unprotected flesh. Blizzards blow, weapons seize up and even simple body functions become intolerable.” Indeed, what makes the Siachen Glacier noteworthy is not that it is the world’s highest battlefield, per se – it is that the conflict there is more a fight “against the mountain, not the man,” The New York Times reported.
Saleem Ali of the University of Vermont and author of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future had a terrific piece in National Geographic Magazine on April 7 exploring the opportunities to transform the Siachen Glacier – the world’s highest battlefield – into an environmental peace park that could pay significant dividends for stability between Pakistan and India. Here is an excerpt of his article:
CNAS is just several weeks away from publishing a major study on the South China Sea (look for it sometime early in January 2012). But with U.S. and other East Asian leaders preparing to meet in Bali on November 19, and the South China Sea likely to be a focus for some of those world leaders, it is important to keep track of the trends developing in the region.
Just yesterday, the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Scott Swift, raised concerns that minor territorial disputes in the South China Sea could precipitate greater conflict in the region. “There are lots of positive examples that people are reaching for dialogue as opposed to defense to solve these problems,” Swift said. Nevertheless, “A ‘miscalculation’ on the part of one actor could lead to the point where ‘presidents and premiers are engaged in a discussion to ensure it doesn’t escalate to something that nobody in the region wants,’” Swift cautioned, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Last week, The Times of India reported that India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh would, with Vietnam’s support, continue its exploration for oil and natural gas resources in the South China Sea. The announcement came despite warnings from China that it expects countries outside the region to stay out and support bilateral cooperation between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors as they deal with their competing claims.
The move by Vietnam to invite ONGC Videsh to the region is a particularly interesting maneuver, one that suggests that bilateral cooperation between Beijing and Hanoi may be more difficult than initially thought – at least in the near term. Vietnam seems to be hedging by deepening its ties with India, which observers note is increasing its Naval and Air Force capabilities to offset China’s strengthening military. For Vietnam, strengthening its ties with India – and leveraging its military capabilities – it hopes will help it develop a stronger bargaining position in the region; after all, Beijing has shown that it prefers bilateral deals with countries in the South China Sea as opposed to working multilaterally (e.g., with ASEAN or within the East Asia Summit) for similar reasons: it can leverage its economic and military strength to its advantage much more efficiently.
China is likely to keep a watchful eye on the developing Indian-Vietnamese relationship, which could in the near-term chill cooperation in the South China Sea. Perhaps in the long-term the leveling of the playing field will work to facilitate cooperation, though. It is difficult to tell, but I’m fairly confident that cooperation is still possible if the conditions are right.
If I had to pick one news story that stood out to me this weekend, it would have to be this piece from the Sunday Washington Post reporting on the growing domestic backlash to India’s land grab. The story stood out to me, in part, because land rights, use and seizing are issues we have not analyzed too much on the Natural Security blog. But as this report from yesterday’s Post portends, it is a creeping trend that we are likely to read more about as farmers in developing countries seek to hold onto their land in countries where population growth is shrinking the amount of arable farmland at the same time governments try to industrialize their economies by renting land to domestic or foreign companies.
“All over India, farmers are coming into conflict with the government as it tries to satisfy the country’s insatiable hunger for land for industry, infrastructure and urban housing,” the Post reported. “And the decades-old way of doing business — the government seizing the land under a British colonial law, paying a token compensation to farmers and then bullying people into submission — just isn’t working anymore.”
The report details a number of billion dollar investments being made by South Korean and Indonesian companies, to name just a few. Yet as the government attempts to capitalize on the interest from foreign companies, long-time farmers are rebuffing attempts by the government to seize their land. As a result, “Projects worth tens of billions of dollars have been held up as farmers, backed by local politicians and empowered by India’s vibrant television news channels, have found their voice — and said no,” according to the Post.
The India Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched three satellites into orbit on Wednesday: ResourceSat-2 and two nano-satellites, YouthSat and X-Sat. The payloads were launched from the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C16, the 17th consecutive successful launch from the PSLV after it failed during its first launch in 1993.
ResourceSat-2 is the follow on mission to ResourceSat-1, an ISRO satellite launched in 2003 that was expected to have a mission life of 5-7 years. As a remote sensing satellite, ResourceSat-2 is equipped with three cameras that provide higher resolution images than its predecessor. In addition, it will carry an experimental instrument built by the Canadian based company, COMDEV, which will provide ship surveillance (including the speed and position of vessels on Earth).
The mission objective for ResourceSat-2 is nearly identical to ResourceSat-1, which focused on providing data on natural resources, including water and agricultural as well as climate studies. In explaining ResourceSat-2’s mission, ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan said that it will “monitor natural resources at different resolutions. It can be used to monitor snow cover, glacier changes, urban landscape and others.”
In addition, India has touted ResourceSat-2 as a satellite that will provide useful data to the international community when it begins transmitting on April 28. The Times of India reported yesterday that data from ResourceSat-2 will be shared among 15 countries. Similarly, in discussing the new satellite, R.R. Navalgund, director of the Space Applications Centre (which is a major component of ISRO) said, “You can collect data from the entire globe. So, there will be a great demand for this kind of data which is available from the Resourcesat-2…. It will become the workhorse for monitoring the resources of the entire earth for the global community.”