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Asean Affairs   20  July  2011

Progress or just words?

By  David Swartzemtruber

AseanAffairs     20 July 2011

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Today China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) officials agreed to guidelines on cooperation in the disputed areas of the South China Sea. The agreement precedes a Thursday meeting of their foreign ministers at the annual Asean meetings in Bali, Indonesia.

The agreement has both an upside and downside. The upside is that it represents a multilateral approach using Asean to address the issue. This runs counter to the Chinese position of talking to each Asean country involved (Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam) individually. The downside is that most diplomats say the guidelines have been watered down into generalities.

Differences still remain on which areas of the South China Sea are being disputed after China laid claims to the entire region and the Philippines said it would seek UN arbitration to define the areas under contention.

The guidelines have been under negotiation for nearly 10 years. They spell out ways to implement a declaration of South China Sea claimants on the need for a code of conduct to govern activities in the area.

However, a legally binding Regional Code of Conducta greement delineating each country’s territorial rights is still far off, especially in light of the aggressive position that China has taken in the dispute.

The real issue is the amount of oil and gas resources that can be exploited in the sea. Chinese officials have given the most optimistic estimates of resource wealth in the area. One Chinese estimate puts possible oil reserves as high as 213 billion barrels - 10 times the proven reserves of the US. American scientists have estimated the amount of oil at 28 billion barrels.

Diplomatic exchange is much more civil than the gunboat threats and protests that have captured headlines recently and that is a positive step in reducing tensions in one of the world’s most heavily traveled shipping lanes.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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