Foreign Policy Blogs

ASEAN Integration May Depends on Officially Defined Segregation

I wrote before that –

Future political integration is dependent on ASEAN resolving its many territorial disputes. There is still a high level of nationalism in the region; member-countries are suspicious of each other due to centuries of conflict, followed by colonial isolation.

These disputes were recently surveyed on Capital Hill, by Richard P. Cronin, Director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Stimson Center, during his testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs.

Although I have a few disagreements with Cronin over this belief that “China’s behavior directly threatens legitimate American and Southeast Asian interests…”  –  more an issue of degree, not kind –  he gave an excellent briefing of the  territorial issues that plague Southeast Asia.

Most of these dispute center around territory that will expand fishing zones or are thought to contain abundant amounts of fossil fuels.  Islands are especially prized because they allow a nation to extend their 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) privilege granted them by The Law of the Sea.  In some cases, such as the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia, the issue is more one of  jingoism.

So where are the conflict zones?

Mekong Riverdisputed by China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

conflict: This is complicated, because the dispute does not  involve territory, but instead, the resources drawn from the river, which are primarily water and fish.  All of the nations listed above access the river, but there have been various damming projects by some which have had a disparate impact on the delicate ecosystem.

South China Sea:

Coastal Area– disputed by Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and China.

Gulf of Tonkin – disputed by China, Vietnam

Paracel Islands – disputed by People’s Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), Vietnam

Spratly Islands – disputed by People’s Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei

conflict:  Twice in the last 20 years, China and Vietnam have exchanged gun fire over the Spratly Island chain, which has resulted in the death of over 70 Vietnamese sailors.  China has also forced non-Chinese fishing vessels out of sections of the South China sea that are in dispute and even fined them.  China also has a history of pressuring foreign oil companies from doing exploratory work in the area with neighboring nations.

Preah Vihear Temple/Maritime – disputed by Cambodia, Thailand

conflict:  Cambodia and Thailand have exchanged gun fire at the border over the ownership of the temple, which both nations claim, but is internationally recognized to belong to Cambodia.  So far, 7 Thai and Cambodian soldiers have died in the skirmishes.

The Gulf of Thailand – Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam

conflict: There are overlapping claims in the Gulf of Thailand, due to the geography; it is not possible to give each nation a 200 mile  EEZ.  Thailand and Vietnam have made a settlement, but Cambodia has objected it.