Why is the area disputed?
Friday, 5 November 2010
Border Focus: Indonesia and Malaysia
What is disputed?
Indonesian and Mayalsia have several border disputes, but the most important relates to an area called the Ambalat region in the Sulawesi sea.
Why is the area disputed?
The area is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons, and both countries have offered exploration blocks to IOCs. The area is also rich in sealife and has great tourism potential. The maritime boundary was not delimited during the colonial period.
What is the history of the dispute?
The roots of the dispute lie in a 1979 map issued by Malaysia, which outlined its territorial waters and continental shelf. The map drew Malaysia's maritime boundary running in a southeast direction in the Sulawsi sea, from the easternmost point of the land border on Sebatik Island, an island off the eastern coast of Borneo. The map included large parts of the Ambalat region inside its territory, and Indonesia and other surrounding countries quickly protested to the map.
What is considered to be each country's 'basepoints' is crucial in determining the limits of their maritime claim. In the 1979 map, Malaysia took the islands of Sipadan and Ligitan to be its basepoints, despite the fact that Indonesia had claimed them since 1959. The two countries took the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled in Malaysia's favour in 2002, based on its 'effective occupancy' (effectivités).
While the ICJ decision had no bearing on the Ambalat block itself, Indonesia was forced to amend its baselines, removing Sipadan and Ligatan islands as basepoints. In 2008, Indonesia redrew its baselines and as a result, the Ambalat Block was no longer entirely inside Indonesian internal waters.
How serious is the dispute?
The dispute over the Ambalat block has continued throughout this decade, with both sides awarding the blocks to oil companies. There are two blocks that are the major disagreement point: what Indonesia calls Ambalat Block and East Ambalat Block, and what Malaysia calls Block ND6 and ND7. The blocks are not identical, but they have large overlapping areas.
The deep sea blocks are estimated to contain at least 62 million barrels of oil and 348 cubic meters of natural gas. In 1999 Indonesia awarded Ambalat Block to ENI, and in 2004 it awarded Unocal the East Ambalat Block. In 2005, however, Malaysia's Petronas awarded Production Sharing Contracts to Shell and Petronas Carigali for both blocks.
There have also been skirmishes between navies, and on numerous occasions one side's fishing vessels have been arrested by patrol boats and accused of being in the other's territory. Both countries have a heavy naval presence in the area.
What are the possible solutions?
Malaysia said in 2009 that it would not refer the dispute to the ICJ, preferring diplomatic channels, which is positive. 2010 has seen both countries commit themselves to negotiations, and it seems that discussions will go ahead despite the fact that Malaysia is currently in dispute with Singapore over claims to Batu Puteh Island. The case has been referred to the ICJ, and while Malaysia previously said it could not resolve its dispute with Indonesia until it had resolved its dispute with Singapore, it looks like this issue has been circumvented.
In August 2010, Indonesia said it was looking into the possibility of temporarily turning the disputed border areas with Malaysia into a jointly managed territory to avoid more border incidents. The two countries have already established joint patrols in the Malacca Strait. This would be a positive first step, and could lead, ultimately, to the establishment of a joint development area in the Ambalat block. Joint Development Zones have been used successfully in other regions where resources straddle the border. Ultimately, until the maritime boundary is definitively established, both sides will lose out on the economic prosperity the Ambalat Block promises.
Cultural and political tensions continue to hind progress however. In 2009, there was uproar in Indonesia when a Malaysian tourism advert on the Discovery Channel featured a traditional Balinese dance called Pendet. One Indonesian politician even suggested they declare war on Malaysia as a result. Malaysia and Indonesia have a rich shared history – there was even a time when the idea of a pan-Malay region was floated – and it is unfortunate that the colonial experience, which created the two nations, and the demands of modern nationalism, which forces the cultures to delineate themselves so rigidly, has caused so many seemingly avoidable problems.
For the full article, please visit the Menas Borders website, here