Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Chinese warships in Burmese port worries Indians

Chinese navy officers aboard the Guangzhou at Thilwa Port

Two warships from China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) docked on Sunday 29th August at Thilawa Port near Rangoon, Burma. It was the first time Chinese naval warships have visited Burma in their 60-year relationship, and is being viewed as a statement of intent to exert control over the Indian Ocean.

Chinese media has reported that the warships were sent with the aim of promoting friendly relations with the Burmese navy. While Burma has long been a rogue state in the eyes of the West, China is the junta's key ally, investor and trading partner. In November 2009, China began construction of a pipeline across Burma and has been involved in the development of hydro power. China has also sold Burma arms and has been able to shield it from UN sanctions as a result of its permanent member status on the UN Security Council. In return, China has secured access to raw materials from Burma, such as teak and gems.

A key factor of their relationship, however, is China's desire for access to the Indian Ocean. A 2009 report by Chinese scholars Li Chenyang and Ley Liang Fook said:

“China wants to shift from a one-ocean state to a safer and more stable two-ocean state to enhance its security. Hence, a core objective of China's policy towards Myanmar [Burma] is to establish a strategic network of road, rail and air transport from Yunnan Province in the southwest through Myanmar to the Indian Ocean and also to construct water, oil and gas pipelines.”

While Indian and China have a 3,500km-long disputed Himalayan border, it is possible that in the future the flashpoint for disputes between the two Asian heavyweights will be the Indian Ocean. Both countries have been raising the international profile of their navies, for example, in fighting pirates off the coast of Somalia. But China has been the more aggressive country in using its navy for diplomatic purposes, such as last week's visit to Burma. According to US Navy Commander Steven L. Horrell, the US Navy, India and China are all competing for influence in the Indian Ocean, to protect their strategic interests. He insists, however that China's moves are "not incompatible with a peaceful rise."

In recent years, China has expanded its port facilities in countries that border India, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma, but while it should be noted that the ports are commercial structures, not naval bases, Indian strategists have nonetheless refered to the projects as a 'string of pearls' encircling India in its strategic back yard. The Indian Ocean has been described as the 'Silk Road of the 21st century', moving Gulf oil and African minerals to the world's two most populous nations.

The visit of the Chinese navy to Burma comes a time of already heightened tension between China and India; Beijing recently denied a visa to Indian Lt. Gen. B.S. Jaswal because he oversaw Army operations in Indian-controlled Kashmir, and an Indian newspaper reported on Saturday 28th August that India had responded by suspending military exchanges. Chinese media sources have said they are unaware of any change in relations, and the Indian government has refused to comment.

The Indian Ocean's role as a key shipping route is only going to increase as the Chinese spread their investing power around the world. How India react to China's actions could be of crucial importance to not only the region, but the world.
Yahoo news, The Irrawaddy, The Bangkok Post

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Google in trouble again over Kashmir map

Given the prevalence of disputed borders around the world, the task of mapping the world is fraught with difficulties. Google Maps, a theoretically objective service, often find themselves caught in political disputes between nations, and there is often no clear 'right' answer on where to mark the border.

Mapping India's borders has been one of the company's biggest challenges. The issue first emerged in 2005, when Google's political map of the subcontinent had a clearly defined boundary between India and Pakistan, with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) on the Pakistani side of the border. Political remonstrations resulted in Google marking the border as disputed. The issue flared up again on 21st August when Indian authorities announced that Google Maps had 'given' POK back to Pakistan. Indian officials threatened Google with legal action if a change was not made immediately.

"Any wrongful depiction of Indian map and its boundaries is liable for action under the India Information Technology Act. Google has been asked to immediately correct this inaccuracy," Minister of state for telecom and IT Sachin Pilot said. Google has said that the responsible department has rectified the maps.

Google has faced issues in India before, when in 2009, Google's satellite maps showed parts of Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory, labeled with Chinese script. China claims parts of Arunachal Pradesh as part of South Tibet, while India claims it in its entirety.

One solution Google has used in the past has been to depict maps differently for local versions. The Chinese version of Google Maps for example shows parts of Arunachal Pradesh as inside China's borders. Similarly, the Indian version depicts the state as part of India. The global version of Google Maps shows Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territory through using broken lines on the map.

Further disputes include the placement of the border between Thailand and Cambodia, with Cambodia complaining that the map ceded territory to Thailand. Thailand and Cambodia have a longstanding dispute over an 11th century Hindu temple called Preah Vihear. Despite an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 1962 in favour of Cambodia, disputes have remained because the area around the temple was not covered. The two countries came close to dispute this summer over new site management plans submitted to UNESCO by Cambodia; in particular, a 4.6sq km area at the base of the temple is under continued dispute. Cambodia argued that the Google map put half of the temple in Thai territory.

Even countries which have resolved their border disputes have had issues with Google Maps. In March 2010, Vietnam claimed that Google had misrepresented their border with China, situating it a few kilometers south of the agreed line.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Tensions remain, but Thailand and Cambodia look for diplomatic solution to temple dispute

In recent weeks, tension between Thailand and Cambodia over the 11th century Preah Vihear Hindu temple – after which one of Cambodia's northern provinces is named - on their border has heated up to near breaking point, but military conflict seems to be a less likely option now as both countries have committed themselves to a diplomatic solution.

Tension has existed over the temple for many years, despite a 1962 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that the temple was in Cambodian territory. The ruling did not, however, include the adjacent land where access to the temple largely lies, and which Thailand insists is its own territory.

Thailand sought to have the countries jointly seek World Heritage status for the site, based on a 2000 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). However the then Thai Foreign Minister, Noppadon Pattama, was forced to resign in 2008 after it emerged that he had signed a joint communiqué with Cambodia in breach of the Thai constitution. This opened the way for Cambodia to make a separate application for World Heritage Site status which was granted in July 2008. Border skirmishes between the two countries broke out soon afterwards.

The issue re-emerged in late July 2010 when Cambodia moved to submit a new management plan for the temple and 4.6 sq km of adjacent land during UNESCO's World Heritage Committee meeting in Brazil. The Thai delegation, led by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, attended the forum to lobby against the plan, and argued that the committee should not consider the plan until Thailand and Cambodia have agreed on a demarcation line. Thailand fears that acceptance of the Cambodian management plan would result in a buffer zone being created around the temple, and on 29th July, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that his country would withdraw from UNESCO if the committee accepted the Cambodian plan.

UNESCO agreed to delay making a decision on the plan until the next World Heritage Committee meeting, due to be held in Bahrain in 2011. This failed to resolve the tension however, with both countries accusing the other of military threats. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote to the UN accusing Thailand of threatening to use military force, while Thai troops on the border have reported Cambodian troop movements. Cambodian officials have requested mediation from both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Vietnam, which is the current chair of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but Thailand has said it is a bilateral issue that does not require third-party intervention. Vejjajiva has, however, set up talks with Ban in an effort to ensure that the Secretary-General understands the Thai position before his scheduled visit to Cambodia on 27th October.

Domestic political issue in Thailand have also contributed to the dispute, because the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is in alliance with Vejjajiva's Democrat Party, led the 28th July protest at UNESCO's Bangkok office. This was in defiance of the emergency decree prohibiting political gatherings that were put in place after political violence in the spring. The group wants Thailand to cancel the 2000 MoU which it claims put Thailand at a disadvantage.

While both sides now agree that diplomatic solutions can be found, Cambodia has postponed a General Border Committee meeting that was due to be held on 27th August, citing tension as the cause.

Thailand, however, has continued to push for a new meeting of the Joint Boundary Commission, to prevent international interference in the dispute. Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong met with ASEAN General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan in Phnom Penh on 16th August, but Thailand declined to send a representative, arguing that the dispute should not be raised to a regional level.

The Preah Vihear temple is only one issue in the long-running border dispute between the neighbouring countries. The maritime dispute – resulting in the 27,000 sq kms Overlapping Claims Area (OCA) – has been in force majeure for decades and has prevented any exploration in the seemingly oil-rich area.

Menas Borders has undertaken detailed analysis of the Thailand-Cambodia maritime dispute. For further details please contact info@menasborders.com

Sources: MCOT, MCOT 2, Bangkok Post, Bangkok Post 2, Voice of America