Monday, 29 November 2010

Border Focus: North and South Korea

A South Koreans soldier patrols the DMZ

What is disputed?

In essence, the whole peninsula is disputed, as both the North and the South theoretically seek reunification upon their own ideological lines: neoliberal social democracy for the South and a militant communism for the North. But reunification has become an increasingly distant dream over the past half century as the systems have become fully entrenched in their respective spheres. On a more immediate basis, tension between the two countries centres around their border onshore, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and their UN-designed maritime border, the Northern Limit Line (NLL).

What is the history of the dispute?The two Koreas were unified until the end of World War II. They were governed by the Korean Empire until it was brought under the Japanese sphere of influence following the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and it was eventually annexed in 1910.

It was divided into Soviet and American occupied zones along the 38th parallel, when the Japanese were forced to relinquish control at the end of World War II. UN-supervised elections were held in the south in 1948, but when the North refused to participate, separate governments were created for each area.
Both nations, however, continued to claim sovereignty over the Korean Peninsula as a whole, and this led to the Korean War (1950-53), when the Soviet–backed North Koreans invaded. The UN, and especially the US, came to the defence of the South, and they succeeded in pushing the North’s troops beyond the original border. Fresh from its own civil war, Communist China came to the North’s defence and an 1953 armistice re-established the border near the 38th parallel. The Armistice Agreement of 1953 ended the fighting, but both nations are officially still at war as a peace treaty was never signed.

In the ceasefire of 1953, the DMZ was created, when each side agreed to move their troops back 2km from what had been the front line, creating a buffer zone 4km wide. The Military Demarcation Line (MDL) indicates exactly where the front was when the agreement was signed.

The MDL was extended into the sea by the US-led UN military forces after the ceasefire, and this Northern Limit Line now serves as the de facto maritime boundary. The 1953 Armistice Agreement specified that the UN Command (ie South Korea) would retain control of five islands, including Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong Islands. The NLL was not part of the actual Armistice Agreement because the two sides could not agree how the territorial sea should be measured: the UN favoured three nautical miles, while the North favoured 12. The NLL, unsurprisingly, adopts the UN preferred option.

While both sides acknowledge the DMZ as the border between the two, the North does not accept the NLL, and since 1999 has been arguing in favour of a more southerly ‘West Sea Military Demarcation’.

How serious is the dispute?

The dispute between the two Korea’s is very serious, not only for the people living on the peninsula, but because any dispute between the two threatens to involve their international backers: the US for the South and China for the North.

Since the 1950s the tension on the peninsula has remained high and there have been numerous border clashes. A series of low-level armed clashes around the DMZ area between 1966-69 has been called the Second Korean War by some; there have been numerous assassination attempts on South Korean presidents by the North; and the North has dug at least four tunnels crossing under the DMZ in what appears to be preparation for a military strike. The North claims that they are for coal mining, and the walls have been painted black to give the appearance of coal.

The South, and their American allies are not innocent either, and there have been numerous incidents of American helicopters and other aircrafts invading northern airspace. They have been shot down on at least two occasions.

There have been political wrangling as well as military, including the bizarre 'flagpole war' of the 1980s. The South Korean government installed a 98.4m tall flagpole with a 130kg South Korean flag in Daeseong-dong, a South Korean town that lies within the DMZ. In retaliation, the North promptly built what was then the tallest flatpole in the world at 160m, with a 270kg North Korean flag, near Panmunjom, the town on the MDL where the Armistice talks took place in 1953.

Also on the MDL is the Joint Security Area (JSA), where all negotations since 1953 have taken place. Amusingly, the area has been built so that the MDL goes through conference rooms, and even down the middle of conference tables, so North and South Koreans can meet face to face while remaining on their own jurisdiction.

The NLL has also been the cause of numerous disputes. The fact that it enforces a 3 nautical mile territorial sea has prevented the North from accessing its rightful Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as dictated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As a result, the North does not recognise the line, and its fishing boats consistently work close to, or over, the limit line, often escorted by North Korean naval boats.

What has happened in recent years?

Relations began to improve in the early 1990s, with the 1991 'Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression and Exchanges and Cooperation between the South and the North' (also known as the ‘Basic Agreement’) which acknowledged that reunification was the goal of both governments, and the 1992 'Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula'.

Sino-Russian border compromise results in joint development of Heixiazi Island

Heixiazi Island, the orange portion is what China acquired in 2008

Proof that compromise over border disputes can benefit everyone involved, an island that used to be a major source of conflict between China and Russia is set to become a major tourist and business hub.

Heixiazi Island (Bolshoi Urrusiysky Island to the Russians) is a 327square km sandbar in the middle of the confluence of the Heilongjiang and Wusuli Rivers (also known as the Amur and Ussuri Rivers). The Russians have occupied the island since 1929, when Soviet troops took it during a border clash, but the two countries reached an agreement in July 2008 to share it. The Russians simultaneously returned Yinlong Island (Tarabarov Island). The agreement officially marked the end of demarcation of the 4,300km Sino-Russian border.

The Chinese half of the island is currently off limits, and guarded by the military, and the local Heilongjian government is planning to develop it into a northern winter resort, drawing tourists from nearby Russia, Japan and South Korea. The local government plans to invest some US$1.47 billion in Heixiazi, with plans for hotels, a free trade shopping centre and an industrial park. The Russians have previously used the island as a military base, and it is only sparsely inhabited.

Much of the Chinese development plans are directed at the Russians. The industrial park, for example, will house factories making products for the Russian market. Khabarovsk, one of the largest cities in Eastern Russia, is nearby Heixiazi, and is set to be linked with the island through jointly-developed roads, bridges, ports, a railroad and possibly an airport. Khabarovsk is well connected to the rest of the country by rail, thereby enabling Heixiazi’s products to reach the wider Russian market.

Heilongjiang province has had considerable success developing its tourism industry. Sun Island, in the middle of the Songhua River near Harbin, is a summer resort, featuring beaches, theme parks and a reserve for the endangered Siberian tiger. In the winter, it is the site of the popular Harbin Ice Festival.

Not everyone in China was happy about the resolution of the border disputes with Russia. Much of what is now the Sino-Russian border was a legacy of treaties between first the Qing Dynasty and the Russia empire, and later the various Chinese governments dealings with the Soviets. Many in China consider these treaties to be ‘unequal’, especially regarding territory in Manchuria and Mongolia. Many in China thought they rightfully deserved the whole of Heixiazi island, not only half.

Still, with property developers ready to move in, and northern China set to benefit from wealthy Russian and Japanese tourists, those who were against the agreement may come to see half as better than nothing.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Anti-North Korea bias skews reporting of island crisis

A look at any news website this morning will have told you that North Korea has attacked a South Korean island, killing at least one soldier and injuring numerous military and civilian personnel.

As far as background information goes, they will probably tell you that the North and the South never officially ended the 1950-53 Korean war, and that the North fired a torpedo in March 2010, sinking a South Korean ship and killing 46 people. The shadowy nature of the North Korean regime will be raised, as will their nuclear programme.

Part of the problem with any reporting on the Koreas is that in the West, we generally get our information from the South. In the world of 24 hour news, the media is looking for instant experts and official quotes, and these are unlikely to come from the North. Due to the time difference, this new crisis has been reported as part of the morning news. Opinions are made at the first reading, and the largely anti-North Korean western media immediately blames Pyongyang. In fact, if the media had waited, there would have been time to hear from the North, who in the late morning UK time, released a brief statement accusing the South of firing first. "Despite our repeated warnings, South Korea fired dozens of shells from 1pm ... and we've taken strong military action immediately," the North's official KCNA news agency said in a brief statement.

A similar situation occurred over the sinking of the Cheonan in March 2010. The North was immediately accused by the South and the US, and it was, of course, no surprise when an “international” investigation, ie one run by Seoul and Washington, found their accusations confirmed: they were unlikely to find anything else. The reclusive nature of the Pyongyang regime, of course, doesn’t help the North’s reputation in the world, but it seems that at least due consideration should be given to the North’s defence. In early November, Pyongyang released a detailed defence, pointing out that the international investigation found that an aluminium torpedo sank the warship, whereas all of its torpedoes are made of steel alloy.

It is as yet unclear what the truth of this most recent skirmish is, though that hasn’t stopped wild rumours of Kim Jong-il’s death from flying around the internet. Nor has it prevented UK Foreign Minister William Hague from issuing a statement, saying the UK “strongly condemns North Korea's unprovoked attack on the South Korean island”. Who fired first may never be known, though it can be sure that most of the world will continue to blame the North.

For more information on the Korean dispute, see the menas borders website.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Nicaragua and Costa Rica in border row over Google maps

The 'Bing' map with the 'Google' map inset

Google maps has been in the news again, this time at the centre of a dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The events have played out curiously over the last week, receiving huge media attention, and it is not yet clear how it will be resolved.

The dispute centres around the San Juan River, which starts in Lake Nicaragua, and becomes the natural border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica for much of its 120 mile course to the sea. For more than a century, the countries have sparred over navigation and fishing rights on the river, although the issues were largely settled by an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 2009.

The ICJ decision regarded that Costa Rica has navigational rights on the river, but that Nicaragua maintains the power of regulation. In essence, they ruled that in the regions under dispute, the border lay, not in the middle of the river, but on the Costa Rican bank. The river itself is in Nicaraguan territory.

The problem with boundaries based on natural features like rivers is that they can change, sometimes naturally and sometimes due to human intervention. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega started a dredging project in the river in October this year, and it is this that caused the dispute to flare up.
The dredging project aimed to remove the river sediment that makes it hard to navigate the water; it was also however, hoped that deepening the river would redirect the water back up to Nicaragua, after heavy sedimentation had driven the flow into Costa Rican territory for the last 20 mile stretch toward the Caribbean.

The Costa Ricans, unsurprisingly, were not happy about the plan, especially when Security Minister Jose Maria Tijerino revealed photos showing that the river sediment was being dumped on Costa Rican territory. Ortega had communicated his plans to San Jose, of course, but the Costa Ricans accused the Nicaraguans over breaking promises.

We had a guarantee,” Costa Rican Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Roverssi, told reporters Tuesday 26th October. “They were going to conduct only a small dredging that wouldn't affect Costa Rican territory. But what happened is a violation of our national sovereignty … that changes the circumstances.

Farmers on the Costa Rican side have also alleged that a group of armed men have invaded their land, harassed workers and killed livestock.

It is this land invasion that has gotten Google in trouble; it is also the point in which most media coverage starts, ignoring the crucial background to the story. The leader of the dredging project is Sandista revolutionary hero Eden 'Comandante Cero' Pastora, a close ally of the Nicaraguan president. Upon being accused of crossing the border, setting up camp on a disputed island and replacing a Costa Rican flag with a Nicaraguan one, he blamed Google Maps, saying he was in territory that internet giant had said was Nicaraguan. Many commentators have pointed out that it would be worrying if any government was that reliant on Google Maps, and have suggested that the Nicaraguans are using the map to justify a land grab.

Costa Rica put up a fuss, Google admitted the map was incorrect and blamed the US State Department for providing it with information that put the border 1.7 miles away from where it should be. On Friday 5th November Google geopolicy analyst Charlie Hale said in a Google blogpost that the State Department had provided a corrected version and "we are now working to update our maps."

The problem could have been solved there, except that the Nicaraguan government spoke up, saying the current Google map was actually correct. A further issue has possibly arisen too, with unconfirmed sources saying that Pastora has denied the Google connection. Apparently, he says that he was on Nicaraguan territory as prescribed by the Canas-Jerez Treaty of 1858.

The dispute has become so serious that the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insuza has flown to the region to help solve the conflict. He is expected to report on his progress on 9th November. On Saturday 6th November, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said she was prepared to take the dispute to the UN Security Council if the OAS could not find a solution.

"Costa Rica is seeing its dignity smeared and there is a sense of great national urgency [to resolve this problem]," Chinchilla said after meeting Insulza.

There is no easy answer to this dispute. The 2009 ICJ decision relied heavily on the 1858 treaty, but there was great difficulty in determining the exact meaning of the treaty. It is interesting that both sides have claimed that the treaty will prove their view of the border region to be correct. Hale, for example, said Google was going to use the First Award of Arbitration of 1897, which affirmed the Ca├▒as-Jerez Treaty of 1858, to redraw its border based on the Costa Rican request, while Pastora has said that the Treaty gives him the right be where he was. The situation will not descend into war – Costa Rica lacks an army – but both sides have increased official presence in the area. What Google will do awaits to be seen.

Sources: Globalpost, AFP, Google Blog, The Galloping Beaver Blog

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' (effectivit├ęs).
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