ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Progress or just words?By David Swartzemtruber
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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