Tuesday, 27 July 2010

China, Japan hold treaty talks on gas exploration rights in the East China Sea

Japan and China held the first round of talks in Tokyo on 27th July aimed at signing a treaty over joint gas field development in the East China Sea. The two sides had agreed to hold gas treaty talks when officials met in Hanoi last week as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings.

Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Ocean Affairs Bureau, and Ning Fukui, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Boundary and Ocean Affairs Department, attended the meeting to discuss the treaty, which is expected to reflect a 2008 bilateral accord.

The accord was designed to resolve a row over gas exploration, and the two countries agreed to drill jointly for oil and gas in the north of the East China Sea. The two countries agreed to jointly tap an area near the gas field known as Longjing in China and Asunaro in Japan; Japan would also invest in the development of the Shirakaba gas field, known as Chunxiao in China.

Talks between the two nations since the June 2008 agreement have been stalled however, with Japan accusing China of beginning unilateral operations of the Chinese side of the median line.

The dispute over ownership of the area originated when it was discovered that part of an undersea natural gas field lay within the Chinese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but part of it lay within a disputed EEZ between Japan and China.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China claims the disputed ocean territory as its own EEZ, due to it being part of the PRC’s natural extension of its continental shelf. Japan, however, claims the disputed territory because it is within 200 nautical miles of Japan’s coast.

The Chunxiao gas field established by China in 2003 is clearly within the Chinese side of the EEZ boundary, but Japan argues that they may tap into a field that stretches into the disputed area.
The 2008 agreement was meant to settle the dispute, and the renewed talks appear to be a positive sign. Additionally, in Hanoi, both states’ foreign ministers expressed their satisfaction at the state of China-Japan relations.
For the full text of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, please see the menas borders eLibrary

Canada, US hold secret meetings on Beaufort Sea dispute

Icebreakers Healy and Louis S. St-Laurent in the Beaufort Sea in 2009

Canadian and U.S. government experts met quietly in Ottawa last week to begin trying to resolve a long-standing boundary dispute in the Beaufort Sea, a Canadian diplomat revealed Monday.

News of the surprise talks was disclosed during a briefing by Canadian and U.S. officials on a bi-national seabed mapping mission to be conducted next month in the Beaufort region.

The Ottawa talks on the Beaufort controversy, held July 22, followed a pledge earlier this year by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon that Canada intends to actively pursue an agreement with the U.S. over where the maritime boundary should be drawn in an unresolved, Lake Ontario-sized section of the Arctic Ocean north of the Yukon-Alaska border.

This summer's joint Canada-U.S. survey, the third consecutive year in which researchers from the two countries have agreed to collaborate on mapping the Beaufort Sea floor, will also include a sonar probe of the contested area itself for the first time.

Beginning Aug. 2, scientists aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent will co-operate in a 42-day mission aimed at generating seabed data across a wide swath of the southern, central and northern Beaufort Sea.

The information is intended to help the two countries prepare their respective claims under a United Nations (UN) treaty for extended authority over submerged territory as well as potential petroleum deposits and other seabed resources. Canada 's submission to the UN agency on continental shelves, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), is due in 2013.

To secure extensions to their authority over extended stretches of undersea territory, countries must prove that clear geological connections exist between the continental mainland and adjacent stretches of sea floor.

Historically, the key area of dispute was a triangle-shaped, 21,500-sq.-km section of the Beaufort Sea close to the Yukon-Alaska shore. But the joint Canada-U.S. seabed surveys in 2008 and 2009 showed each country's claims could extend much farther toward the North Pole than previously imagined, doubling or even tripling the ultimate size of the dispute zone once continental shelf submissions are made.

The two countries have disagreed since the 1970s over where to draw the ocean border. It is a conflict that flares whenever fisheries management, oil-and-gas exploration or other resource development issues arise in the region.

Canada 's position is based on an 1825 treaty between Russian and Britain that was transferred to the U.S. and Canada when the two countries acquired Alaska and the Yukon respectively in the latter half of the 19th century.

That treaty suggests the Beaufort Sea maritime boundary is an extension of the arrow-straight land border between Yukon and Alaska, which follows the 141st meridian.

The U.S. argues the offshore boundary is defined by an "equidistance" principle: The demarcation line at any point is drawn halfway between each country's nearest stretch of coastline.

But because the two countries are working to expand their seabed domains in the central and northern Beaufort — also potential petroleum targets — an area much larger than the traditional dispute zone is coming into play.

Under the U.S. formula for determining the maritime boundary, the looming presence of Canada's Banks Island on the Beaufort's eastern side radically alters where the border between the two countries would be drawn in areas farther out to sea.

According to the U.S. position, Alaska's northward-sloping coastline means the sea's southern maritime boundary veers slightly eastward of the Yukon-Alaska land boundary, giving the U.S. a greater amount of marine jurisdiction.

But the overlap in the northerly expanse of the Beaufort would be much larger and reversed, with the boundary under the U.S. formula swinging far to the west because of Banks Island, giving Canada a greater share of the potentially resource-rich seabed.

Meanwhile, Canada's longitude-line formula for determining the boundary would give the U.S. more seabed territory in the outer Beaufort.

Source: Vancouver Sun

For the full text of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, please see the menas borders eLibrary

Monday, 26 July 2010

China, Vietnam reach border agreement

Thanh Thuy Border Gate

Three bilateral agreements on borders and landmarks between Vietnam and China took effect on Wednesday 14th July, eight months after they were signed. The accords include a Protocol on Border Demarcation and Marker Planting, an Agreement on Border Management Regulations and an Agreement on Border Gates and Border Management Regulations.

Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son said "These legal documents have officially ended a 36-year land border settlement process between Viet Nam and China," during a ceremony to honour the agreements at the Thanh Thuy border gate between Vietnamese province Ha Giang and Chinese province Yunnan.

Vietnam and China share a 1,450km-long border, including 384,000km of rivers and streams. On 27th December 2001, the first border marker was installed at the Mong Cai border post between Vietnam and Dongxing, China, following a 1999 treaty on land borders between the two countries. By 31st December, 2008 the border demarcation was declared complete; in total 1971 marker posts had been installed, including one that accords with a Vietnam-Laos-China agreement.

The history of conflict between China and Vietnam predates Western interference. Vietnam was a tributary of the China’s Qing dynasty, until the French invaded in 1858, and by the 1890s Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were all French colonies. The Japanese occupied Vietnam during the Second World War after which the Viet Minh fought the French for Vietnam’s independence. China was involved with both sides: Mao Zedong's communist CCP backed the Viet Minh, while Chiang Kai-sheks Kuomintang nationalists whom the Communists eventually defeated in 1949, backed the French restoration. After the decisive 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, when the French were comprehensively defeated by the Viet Minh, they quickly left Vietnam and the July 1954 Geneva Accords divided the country into North and South Vietnam.

Throughout the second Vietnam War which began in 1959 between the Viet Minh and the US backed South Vietnamese, both the Chinese and the Soviet Union supported the North, despite the fact that relations between the Chinese and Soviets had soured since the late 1950s. The North Vietnamese drifted towards the Soviet Union throughout the 1960s, and relations deteriorated between Vietnam and China further in the 1970s, especially as the latter reoriented its foreign policy towards the USA.

Conflict broke out between the two countries in 1979 over Vietnam’s role in Cambodia. Vietnam had invaded Cambodia in late 1978 in order to remove the virulently anti-Vietnamese Khmer Rouge, who were demanding land from Vietnam and massacring ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia. China was supporting the Khmer Rouge and therefore invaded North Vietnam in February 1979 in an effort to force Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia, although the official explanation had more to do with the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese forces got as far as Hanoi before withdrawing, conducting a ‘scorched-earth’ campaign in the north on their way out, but both countries claimed victory because Vietnam was not forced to alter its plans in Cambodia.

Border skirmishes continued through the 1980s and a naval conflict occurred in 1988 over the Spratly Islands. The conflict ended in 1989, when Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia, but it took another 10 years before a treaty was signed designating a border, which remained secret.

The ceremony on 14th July 2010 marked the culmination of moves towards cooperation, and the two countries have agreed to establish a Vietnam-China Joint Committee on Land Border to manage the border. The construction of a highway between Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi and Kunming, which is the capital of Yunnan province, is underway.

The ownership of the hundreds of Spratly Islands and other parts of the South China Sea is still disputed between Vietnam, China, and other countries in the region. While the islands themselves are uninhabited, it is thought that the region may contain large reserves of oil and gas although this has not yet been proven.

Sources: Asia News Network, Thanh Nien News

Monday, 19 July 2010

Eighteen cooperation agreements, memos of understanding, executive programs and protocols were signed on Sunday 18th July between Syria and Lebanon at the end of the Syrian-Lebanese Follow-up and Coordination Commission meeting held in Damascus.

On his fourth visit to Syria since taking office in 2009, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged closer bilateral ties as did his Syrian counterpart Niji Otari.

A top issue between the two countries remains the border demarcation. After diplomatic relations were re-established in 2008, Syria agreed to establish a joint committee with Lebanon to demarcate the border, two years after United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 recommended that Syria address the issue.

Since then, however, progress has stalled, with Damascus claiming it was busy finishing the border demarcation with Jordan and that the continued presence of Israelis in the Sheb’aa Farms area complicated any demarcation.

Confusion over the Lebanon-Syria border has existed since the two countries achieved independence from France after the Second World War. No official agreement on the 365km long border has ever been reached, and the internationally recognised border is still that from the French Mandate in 1920.
Although a joint border committee was established in the 1950s and presented its conclusions in 1964, neither country took the findings to the United Nations to have new international maps established.

Syrian military and civilian presence has been a prolonged issue in Lebanon: a year after civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, Syrian troops entered the country. While their presence was initially part of an Arab peacekeeping force it eventually became a 29 year occupation.

Civil conflict continued far beyond the Taif Accord which officially ended the conflict in 1989 and during the occupation, Palestinian militias such as Hezbollah, established themselves in Lebanon, with Syrian approval.

In September 2004, the UN issued Security Council Resolution 1559, which called on the Government of Lebanon to exert control over all Lebanese territory, and reiterating previous resolutions, and declared its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon. It also called for the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanon.

On 14th February 2005, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri – who was the father of the current Prime Minister Saad Hariri - was assassinated, prompting protests in Beirut calling for Syria to withdraw. By late April 2005, Damascus announced that all of its troops had been withdrawn from Lebanese territory, which the UN confirmed in late May.

After the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1701, which called upon the Government of Lebanon to secure its borders and recommended that Syria address the issue with Lebanon.

There are still 17 non-delineated sectors along the common border winding through valleys or rivers and despite Syrian insistence that it has withdrawn, large sections of Lebanese territory is likely still under de facto Syrian military and civilian control.

Following Noble Energy’s extensive offshore gas discoveries in Israeli waters there is considerable interest from the IOCs in the prospects for further discoveries in both Lebanese and Syrian waters. Noble’s Tamar field may contain 6 trillion cubic feet of gas, while the Leviathan block may contain 16 trillion cubic feet. Given that the terminus of the land boundary determines the precise direction of the maritime boundary, the formal settlement of the land border is an essential pre-requisite before the maritime area can be delineated.

Sources: SANA, All Lebanon, Bloomberg

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