Monday, 17 March 2014

UN awards Sea of Okhotsk enclave to Russia

On 15 March the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Sergey Donskoy, announced that the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had recognised a section of the Sea of Okhotsk as part of his country’s continental shelf. The enclave, off Russia’s eastern coast, covers a 52,000 square kilometre area of fishing waters estimated to be rich in oil and gas reserves.

At the press conference, Donskoy told reporters that “This is in fact an accomplished event,” stressing that this decision to place the enclave under Russian jurisdiction was irreversible; Russia will get exclusive rights to the area. He said the Ministry had received a formal certificate from the UN Commission, which gives it exclusive rights to subsoil resources and the seabed, although the Sea technically still remains part of international waters.

Though the news of the UN Commission award is not really new – it was announced back in November – it had to be confirmed by the 33rd session of the body held earlier this month. Speaking last year, Donskoy said "Thanks to recognition of this enclave as a part of the Russian continental shelf, our country will gain more reserves of valuable minerals and other natural resources. This 52,000-square-kilometer territory is a real Ali Baba's cave in terms of resources. Access to it will open up enormous opportunities and prospects for the Russian economy."

The enclave forms part of the Okhotsk Sea, a marginal sea which covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometres in the western Pacific Ocean, located to the west of the Kamchatka Peninsula and north of the Kuril Islands. Traditionally known for its rich fishing waters, up to 40 per cent of the newly awarded enclave could hold hydrocarbons resources. Offshore blocks near the Russian port of Magadan have shown serious prospects in terms of crude deposits.

The Minister has said that Russia’s case for this award is a pre-cursor to its claims in the Arctic Circle, “which will be drafted in the near future”. Russia was the first country to submit territorial claims to the UN Commission charged with demarcating borders in the Arctic. 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Iran, Iraq reach agreement over Shatt-al-Arab

Iran, Iraq reach agreement over Shatt-al-Arab

On February 25 Iran and Iraq both agreed to implement the 1975 Algiers Agreement regulating the dredging the crucial joint waterway, the Shatt-al-Arab, as well as land and river boundaries. The breakthrough settlement was reached in meetings in Tehran between Foreign Ministers Javad Zarif and Hoshyar Zebari and demonstrates the significance of the developing relationship between these two previously hostile West Asian neighbours.

Iran’s Zarif said after the meeting that “Iran and Iraq have historic and solid ties that are based on religious, political, geographical and cultural commonalities, and we are very happy that we have put behind us a short but bitter episode of our history. Today, the friendly and brotherly people of Iraq and Iran have two governments that also wish to have friendly and brotherly relations.” Iraq’s Zebari echoed these sentiments, stating that “Through calm and continuous work in the past two years among expert committees of the two sides, we have reached good agreements on our land and river borders and on the waterways between the two countries.”

During the meeting both sides reviewed the findings of joint technical committee meetings to outline a framework to fully implement the protocols of the 1975 Agreement. This includes the resolution of all outstanding border issues, including re-counting the Talouk border, dredging, removing drowned bodies, environmental considerations and mutual regulation of navigation rights. These agreements were then drafted into a Memorandum of Understanding to be signed within the coming weeks.

Dispute over the border line through the vital waterway into the Gulf was one of the key reasons which led Iraq to declare war on Iran in 1980. Since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in 2003, however, both neighbours have been in the process of forging a strategic partnership, with bilateral trade amounting to US$12 billion last year.

According to our Editor of Iran Strategic Focus, Bijan Khajehpour,  “Iraq is not only an important trading partner for Iran, but also represents a significant piece in the country’s regional strategy, which aims to have solid relations with all immediate neighbours. Improved ties with all neighbouring countries are at the core of Tehran’s national security doctrine. Iraq occupies a special place in that respect because of the historic hostilities as well as Iraq's status as an Arab nation with a long strategic border with Iran.”

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

India's Modi attacks China's territorial aims

On 23 February, Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi travelled to Arunachal Pradesh, close to a disputed Himalayan border, to hold an election rally in which he bluntly warned China against its territorial ambitions. Modi, who is currently the front-runner in the race to become India’s next prime minister, said that China "will have to leave behind its mind-set of expansion".
China’s Foreign Ministry on 24 February dismissed the latest comments, denying the country had expansionist territorial ambitions, instead framing the decades-long dispute as a sensitive hangover from history. A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, replied by saying that "you can all see in history China has never actively launched a war of aggression to invade and occupy one inch of territory".
This rather diplomatic response is in stark contrast to the recent comments made by Beijing towards Tokyo, where it has also been accused of robust territorial aims in the East China Sea. Many see the unusually muted stance towards India as purely strategic, coming as it does in an election year. Worryingly for China, Japan’s Premier Shinzo Abe recently visited New Delhi and signed various peace and trade agreements with India’s incumbent Manmohan Singh in a bid to bolster ties between to the two nations.
India-China relations have been tense and prone to flare-ups since the two fought a border war in 1962, which saw tens of thousands of casualties on both sides. When Britain withdrew as the colonial power and granted independence to India in 1947, it left behind a myopic legacy of clumsily demarcated borders between India and its northern neighbours. The disputed land covers an area of 150,000 km2 along a 4,000 km frontier that has never been explicitly delineated. This is problematic, given that both countries account for around one third of the world's population, with a total GDP of over US$10 trillion.
In the last 50 years, the Asian giants have held 16 rounds of talks in an effort to settle their border dispute, almost to no avail. A border pact was signed in Beijing on 23 October 2013 following territorial incursions that brought tensions to the fore last year. Both sides have pledged to increase bilateral trade to US$100 billion by 2015, following a 20% drop in Indian exports to China last year.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

ICJ defines Peru-Chile maritime border

On 27 January the UN court at The Hague delivered its eagerly awaited verdict on the bitter Peru-Chile maritime dispute. Judges at the ICJ awarded parts of the Pacific Ocean to Peru, the claimant in this case, while keeping considerable, rich fishing waters within Chile’s borders. The disputed territory amounted to 38,000 km2 of some of the world’s richest fishing grounds, invaluable to these two Latin American nations, both of whom being the world’s biggest exporters of fishmeal.

Following Peru’s application to the ICJ in 2008, the Court yesterday allocated 20,000 km2 to the claimant, with control over an additional 28,000 km2 of Pacific international waters. The Peruvian President, Ollanta Humala, said that he was pleased with the outcome and would “take the required actions and measures immediately for its prompt implementation". Lima wanted the maritime boundary to extend out in a south westerly direction, contiguous to the land border.
Santiago disagreed with this interpretation, believing instead that the boundary should lie parallel to the equator, based on bilateral treaties signed in the 1950s. “Its position throughout the proceedings was that the Parties had already delimited the whole maritime area in dispute, by agreement, in 1952, and that, accordingly, no maritime delimitation should be performed by the Court,” the judges said.  Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet said she would begin implementing the ruling gradually, despite citing it as a “painful loss”.
In its final ruling, the Court “defined the course of the maritime boundary between the Parties without determining the precise geographical co-ordinates. Moreover, the Court has not been asked to do so in the Parties’ final submissions. The Court expects that the Parties will determine these co-ordinates in accordance with the present Judgment, in the spirit of good neighbourliness.” However, it did say that the boundary should begin at the same point that it does now. 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Peru, Chile await ICJ verdict


On 27 January the ICJ will deliver its verdict on the centuries-old maritime border dispute between Chile and Peru. Despite promises from both nations that they will respect the ruling of the Court, the decision will likely strain relations between the Latin American neighbours, who continue to enjoy closer economic bonds through bilateral trade, tourism and investment. The marine area in question is rich in Pacific fish; a vital commodity, considering both states are the world’s top two exporters of fishmeal.
The two countries have no formal treaty in place designating their marine borders, which have been a source of tension between the two countries since Chile invaded Peru in the War of the Pacific (1879-84). Chile considers the matter settled after two treaties in 1952 and 1954 addressed fishing rights in the Pacific Ocean, and stresses that it seeks a climate of peace and harmony with its neighbour. "Chile is a nation that, as we have said on various opportunities, respects international law," said Foreign Affairs Minister Alfredo Moreno in December 2013.
Peru argues the maritime border should follow the downward curve of the land border, rather than the current configuration, which stretches out from the coast along longitudinal lines. Its interpretation of the maritime border area would give Peru control of an additional 37,900km2 of the Pacific Ocean – an area the size of Taiwan. The claim is backed by 99 per cent of Peruvians, according to Peruvian newspaper El Comercio.
The case was initiated by former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo in 2008 after diplomatic efforts aimed at Chile rescinding sovereignty over areas of the waters came to nothing. Current President Ollanta Humalainformed the Chilean government that, while the issue would not be a priority for his administration, they would see the case through. According to cables released by whistle-blowing site Wikileaks, Humala and his predecessors see Peru’s case in The Hague as a way to depoliticise the border dispute. An unfavourable verdict could derail this plan. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Japanese jets intercept Chinese plane

On 7 January, Japanese fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Chinese government plane flying towards the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The Y-12 propeller plane flew unannounced into Japan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) approximately one hundred miles from the Islands, which China refers to as the Diaoyu Islands. This incident is the latest in a series of confrontations between China and Japan, both of whom seeking ownership of the uninhabited Islands in a bid to claim hegemony over the strategic, hydrocarbon-rich East China Sea.
Tuesday’s events follow what the Japanese view as China’s belligerent announcement of its new ADIZ back in November 2013, which led to the US, Japan’s main ally, flying two B52 bombers through the newly announced air space in protest at the move.  The navies and air forces of the two Asian giants have also repeatedly confronted each other in the locale of the Islands since Japan nationalised them in 2012, with both premiers taking a tougher stand over foreign policy. International observers worry that, if these confrontations continue to increase in frequency and intensity, they could escalate to military engagements drawing in other world powers.
In an unusual diplomatic exchange between officials of the two countries, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, wrote "If militarism is like the haunting Voldermort of Japan, the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation's soul." In response to the comments referencing Harry Potter’s arch nemesis, the Japanese Ambassador, Keiichi Hayashi, warned that his counterpart’s country risked becoming the “Lord Voldemort of East Asia”.
It is believed the eight uninhabited islands are located near potentially lucrative oil and gas reserves and strategic shipping lanes, as well as being situated in valuable fishing waters. The island's Exclusive Economic Zone would grant the controlling state sovereignty over these resources.
For further analysis on the claims by each side to these islands, please visit our border briefing page on the East China Sea.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Canada makes Arctic claim

Earlier this month, Canada made a partial submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend its maritime borders in the Arctic to encompass an extra half a million square miles of territory, including the North Pole. This move has angered some of the other four states who lay claim to a portion of the Arctic, including Russia, Greenland, US and Denmark. Claims to the region will become crucial geopolitical considerations for these states in the coming years, as the area north of the Arctic Circle has an estimated 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil according to the US Geological Survey.
Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird said last week that, as part of its submission, his government was making a claim on the Lomonosov Ridge, a submerged mountain-range between Ellesmere Island, Canadian territory, and Russia's Siberian coast. Russia, which has historically named the Ridge as part of its territory, responded to Canada's move by increasing its military presence in the Arctic. President Vladimir Putin has reasserted that the region is key to his nation's interests and that he would build up infrastructure in an area that has seen a Russian retreat in recent years.
Despite the charged, publicly-iterated political rhetoric from Canada and Russia, according to researchers from the International Boundaries Research Unit in Durham University, teams of scientists from both nations are working together on the frozen region, and in reality, there is a great deal more co-operation than their leaders let on. Nevertheless, it is likely that Canada's claim is largely political, more than anything else, given that there are no hydrocarbons reserves at the North Pole.
Canada signed the UNCLOS on 10 December 1982 and ratified it on the 7 November 2003, entering into force exactly a month later. As of August of this year, 165 countries plus the European Union have signed the Convention, with the notable exception of US.