Tuesday, 17 December 2013
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.
Friday, 6 December 2013
It was reported this week that the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy, Amos Hochstein, was in Beirut recently to propose a new solution to Lebanon's maritime boundary dispute with Israel. He suggested a blue line be drawn around the contested area, so that no hydrocarbons exploration activity would take place until a comprehensive and binding resolution between both parties had been reached. A similar blue line was drawn in June 2000 by the UN to demarcate the contested land border between the two Levantine states.
The tangled maritime border has contributed to rising tensions over potential natural gas riches in the eastern Mediterranean. The US Geological Survey estimated in 2010 that the Levant Basin may contain two billion barrels of oil and well over one hundred trillion cubic feet of gas. Neither Israel nor Lebanon has been willing to compromise on its territorial claims for fear of missing out on these much-needed oil and gas reserves.
Earlier this year, Israel's Arab northern neighbour announced a pre-qualification round for offshore exploration, with scores of IOCs showing real interest in potential drilling contracts in Block 9, adjacent to the contested area. Israel responded by announcing its intention to exploit the Karish-1 offshore field near Block 9. Both sides are wary of the other siphoning off these reserves through various horizontal and diagonal drilling techniques. This proposal by the US may go some way to easing tensions in the short-term, however, the underlying issue remains that Israel and Lebanon have not formally demarcated their maritime borders.
In 2007, a bilateral agreement was signed between Lebanon and Cyprus on the delimitation of the former's Exclusive Economic Zone but, in protest at the 2010 bilateral agreement between Cyprus and Israel, it has never been ratified by the Lebanese government. This dispute, as well as Turkish political pressure on Lebanon, has also held up the ratification of the 2007 Lebanese-Cypriot agreement, despite the existence of clauses in these agreements to accommodate for amendments.
The disputed area totals 874km2. Israel plots its maritime border with Cyprus as beginning at Point 1, which coincided with the final point demarcated between Lebanon and Cyprus. Beirut argues, however, that this final coordinate was deliberately chosen because it was in uncontested Lebanese waters and that the de jure border should actually lie 17km further at Point 23.
For further information on maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean, please visit our Border Focus page.
Friday, 29 November 2013
This week has seen a marked challenge to the US' decades-long hegemony over the Asia-Pacific region. On Saturday 23 November, China announced the creation of a new “air defence identification zone” in the East China Sea, which controversially overlaps with an air zone set out by Japan and covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Both Japan and the US are heavily opposed to the air zone and see it is a destabilising move in an already fraught maritime area dividing these two Asian neighbours.
Unannounced, the US flew two B52 bombers over the disputed Islands in defiance at the new Chinese air rules on Tuesday 26 November. The aircraft took off from the island of Guam, a US military outpost in the Pacific, as part of a routine defence exercise, without filing the flight plans with Chinese authorities, sending a clear signal that Washington is not prepared to accept any unilateral change to the status quo. China said that the entire flight was closely monitored and that aircraft that pass through the zone must obey its rules and declare their plans.
Beijing has told Tokyo that the flight information for all Japanese-chartered flights travelling through this air space must be filed with them in advance. Having firstly met the request, Japan's premier Shinzo Abe said shortly after the US bomber flight that Japan would not be doing so in future, saying instead that the zone was “invalid”.
Military muscles were flexed by both powers this week as tensions continue to mount. The day after the B52s flew across the East China Sea, the Japanese parliament passed a bill which enshrined a national security council, effectively handing over more control of the state military apparatus to Abe. On Wednesday 27 December, China's President Xi Jinping launched the country's Liaoning aircraft carrier into the South China Sea – another area where they are engaged in several maritime border disputes.
Relations between the second and third-largest economies in the world have been strained during the last year, as Japan has remained defiant of its territorial rights over islands in the East China Sea in the face of an increasingly robust foreign policy by China. Ships and aircraft from both sides have been involved in provocative military exercises in each other's back yards since Japan officially bought three of the islands from a private owner in September 2012.
It is believed the eight uninhabited islands, referred to as the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands by Japan and China respectively, 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.
Monday, 18 November 2013
On Thursday, thousands of Kurds protested against the construction of a wall separating the border towns of Nusaybin, on the Turkish side, and Al Qamishli, on the Syrian side, by Turkish authorities. The protesters have temporarily put a stop to preparatory building work while their grievances, concerning the division of their community, are aired. The demonstration has complicated the ongoing peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party as the conflict in Syria has spilled over into neighbouring countries.
The protest in Nusaybin, organised by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, was tolerated by Turkish police for most of the day, however, riot police later deployed tear gas as a sit-in got underway in the early evening, dispersing the majority of the crowd. BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas accused Turkey of siding with radical Islamist rebels against Kurdish groups seeking their own autonomous state in Syria, suggesting that the government desired to divide Syrian Kurds from their ethnic counterparts north of the border.
Ankara has justified the two-metre high wall on the grounds of “security”, arguing that it will prevent smuggling and the free movement of rebel fighters across the border, while denying its sponsorship of extremist groups and the existence of any sectarian agenda. Despite this denial, many residents living on the frontier zone joined in the protest, as they felt the wall would have an adverse effect on visiting family and friends living on both sides of the border. Questioning the Turkish government's explanation, Nusaybin's Mayor, Ayse Gökkan, asked: “Why do they not build walls further west, where rebel fighters and Al-Qaeda are allowed to cross the border freely?” Gökkan has since taken part in a hunger strike.
Turkey has absorbed close to half a million refugees from the conflict on its doorstep and continues to maintain its open-door policy to those fleeing the violence. The wall, seen as a temporary security measure, is set to span only a tiny section of the 560 mile border.
Monday, 11 November 2013
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced this morning that sovereignty over the disputed Preah Vihear Temple, on Cambodia's border with Thailand, should rest with Phnom Penh. Bangkok has been ordered to withdraw “ military or police forces or other guards or keepers” from the promontory of the 900 year-old UNESCO world heritage site, according to the ICJ's President, Judge Peter Tomka. Many hope the decision will see an end to the recent escalation of tensions between the two south east Asian neighbours, which saw Thai aircraft flying low over the territory on Saturday and nationalist groups saying that they would reject any finding of the ICJ.
Cambodia filed its application to the ICJ on 28 April 2011, requesting an interpretation of the Court's 1962 judgement, which ruled in favour of Cambodia, concerning the century-long border dispute over the promontory of the the Preah Vihear Temple in the Dangrek Mountains. In its 2011 application, Cambodia stressed the need for Thailand to withdraw its troops from the area, cease all military activity in the vicinity and refrain from any act that could aggravate the dispute, lest irreparable damage be done to relations between the two parties. Thailand refuted the claims that there was still a dispute and that these special provisions, regarding its military, be implemented.
The dispute had resurfaced in 2007, when Cambodia submitted an application to UNESCO to list the Temple as a World Heritage site. The application was subsequently withdrawn, following complaints from Bangkok, and was resubmitted, but with the area surrounding the Temple removed from potential site status. On 7 July 2008, the site was inscribed onto the World Heritage List with a “revised graphic plan”, excluding the area disputed by Bangkok and Phnom Penh. This decision led to several years of armed exchanges in and around the Khao Phra Viharn National Park, on Cambodia's northern border with Thailand.
The Temple has been the subject of belligerent political posturing by both parties since the late 19th century and has been occupied by both sides at various points during the 20th century. On 15 June 1962, the ICJ awarded possession of the Preah Vihear Temple to Cambodia, citing colonial maps from 1907, which clearly placed the Temple within Cambodian territory. These maps showing this demarcation were knowingly circulated by Thailand at the time, despite findings to the contrary by a bilateral boundary commission three years earlier. The area around the Temple was the only portion of the 803 km boundary that did not follow exactly the watershed line around the Dangrek Mountains, which “in a general way, constitutes the boundary between the two countries in this region”. This angered Thailand, who, nonetheless, reluctantly agreed to the ICJ verdict.
Thursday, 31 October 2013
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a peace pact in Beijing on 23 October, aimed at easing tension along their disputed Himalayan border. The two Asian neighbours have seen tensions resurface this year in the form of incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), following decades of disagreement as to the demarcation of the boundary. However, the pact, seen by many as an interim measure, was signed amid comments from Singh that “it will take time to resolve”, stressing that this was not an “easy issue”.
Entitled “Border Defence Co-operation”, this agreement is the fifth such arrangement made between China and India in the last 20 years. It sets out the terms of engagement, committing the armed forces on both sides of the border to “maximum self-restraint” to prevent any unwarranted exchange of fire. Nevertheless, there is also an ambiguous tone to much of the document. Article VI precludes either side from following the other's patrols if they venture into “areas where there is no common understanding of the line of actual control”, essentially giving tacit consent to incursions into neighbouring territory.
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 $10 trillion. Premier Li says their relationship is “the most important bilateral friendship in the world”, which is not necessarily hyperbole. If accidental war were to break out as a result of their rift over this border, it would have untold effect on their respective economic output and could result in significant loss of life. The Sino-Indian War of 1962 saw tens of thousands of casualties from the largely land-based warfare that was waged in harsh, mountainous conditions.
The war was sparked, in part, by China's construction of a strategic highway in the 1950s linking western Tibet with its province of Xinjiang. Eventually the Indian authorities discovered that the road crossed southwards into what it considered to be its territory, based on the Johnson Line, a 19 th century colonial border delineated by the British surveyor, W H Johnson. When Britain eventually withdrew as the colonial power and granted independence to India in 1947, it left behind a myopic legacy of clumsily drawn borders between India and its northern neighbours, with no measures, other than palliative ones, taken to address this issue.
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. Both sides have pledged to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015, following a 20% drop in Indian exports to China last year.
Friday, 25 October 2013
The village of Dvani, located on the administrative border between Georgia and the newly autonomous region of South Ossetia and home to around 1,000 people, has seen a number of protests in recent weeks over the erection of boundary fences by Russian forces. Other villages, such as Ditsi and Didi Khurvaleti, have also been affected by the dividing fences, which locals say amounts to a 'creeping borderisation' across Georgian territory that was not originally agreed upon following the 2008 Russia-Georgia War. The news has received much attention as Georgia's presidential elections approach this Sunday.
According to EU monitors, around 40km of barbed wire fencing has been erected along the 400km border, supported by intermittent pylons fitted with hi-tech surveillance equipment. At some junctures, the fence intersects properties, contiguous farmland and historical sites, including cemeteries. The majority of the work has been completed by Russia's army, appointed by South Ossetia to protect its borders as it did not have an independent force of its own.
Georgia's Foreigh Minister Maia Panjikidze last month said that the this provocative boundary demarcation amounts to “the illegal action of the Russian occupying forces”, a position supported by the EU's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, who has called on Russia to remove the fence. Moscow's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, has labelled T'bilisi's claims “propagandistic hysteria”, denying that Russian action violate international norms.
On 25 August 2008, Russia recognised the breakaway states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent after having supported local militant groups during the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, however, Georgia saw this as an annexation of its territory and formally cut all diplomatic ties with its northern neighbour. Ever since then, the boundary situation has been fluid and unsettled. Border outposts have been moved back and forth, and shooting incidents still occasionally occur. EU monitors have played a limited role in keeping the peace.
Wednesday, 16 October 2013
The Venezuelan and Guyanese governments are set to meet Thursday to discuss the fate of a survey ship, used by oil firm Anadarko, which was seized from Guyanese waters last Thursday. Venezuela accused the ship of violating its territorial waters, while Guyana has called the “unprecedented” move a serious threat to security. The diplomatic meeting set to take place in Trinidad & Tobago is aimed at forestalling any further confrontation between the two nations, whose unresolved borders have been a source of conflict for over a century.
According to Guyana's foreign ministry, Venezuelan ship Yekuana ordered the vessel RV Teknik Perdana, which Caracas deemed to be in its Exclusive Economic Zone, to stop surveying and subsequently escorted it to the island of Margarita. The ship was being used by Texas-based Anadarko, who were awarded a deep-water exploration licence for the Roraima block by Georgetown in June 2012. The company said it was “co-operating fully” with both governments, the US Coast Guard and embassy officials.
The discovery back in 2011 of significant hydrocarbons deposits offshore French Guyana has dramatically increased the presence of IOCs prospecting for fields in the north eastern region of South America. Since then, a Venezuelan naval detachment has been placed in the disputed Essequibo area, located between the Cuyuni River to the west and the Essequibo River to the east and covering 159,500 km2, to ward off Guayanese patrols.
The maritime boundary between the two Latin American nations is unsettled largely because the land boundary between the two is still contested. In the nineteenth century, the border was effectively drawn up by the British, which became a bone of contention with Venezuela. US-backed arbitration in 1899 set a line largely in Britain's favour, but the claim was revived in the 1960s.
Since becoming independent in 1966, Guyana has administered the territory, but Venezuela insists that the boundary is a colonial hangover which is null and void, and refers to the disputed area as a “zone of reclamation”. The recent ship seizure is unlikely to escalate into anything serious, with both sides working towards a cordial, diplomatic resolution, but until the outlines of a settlement are reached, it introduces a further degree of uncertainty into regional oil and gas exploration.
Wednesday, 9 October 2013
China's leading offshore oil producer, the state-run CNOOC, has issued a tender on the company website yesterday inviting IOCs to bid to participate in the exploration of 25 oil and gas blocks, the majority of which are located in the South and East China Sea. The blocks cover a total area of 102,577km2, include 10 highly attractive deep-water patches and represent the largest offshore tender offered (in terms of real size) by China since the 1990s.
The announcement is the latest in a series of moves by China to assert its claims in the strategically-located South and East China Sea by launching tenders for oil and gas blocks, as well as frequent diplomatic manoeuvres and shows of military strength. Tellingly, the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not formally meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit last week, following an escalation of tensions between the two Asian giants over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Last week, Abe made a defiant statement claiming that Japan would not make any concessions on its territorial integrity.
Two of the newly announced blocks, 33/02 and 41/14 in the Lishui Sag area, are located in close proximity to the disputed Islands, whose purchase by Japan last year reignited the centuries-old question over ownership. The state-run company is also thought to be investing $5 billion in developing submerged gas fields in the East China Sea, with the possibility of tapping gas deposits in Japanese waters through diagonal and horizontal drilling methods. The company has already come under scrutiny this month from Green Dragon Gas, which claims that CNOOC breached production sharing contracts by drilling wells on its licences without notification.
In June, China angered Vietnam by inviting IOCs to jointly participate in the development of nine blocks in the waters around Hainan, blocks which Hanoi considers overlap into their maritime territory. CNOOC's usual operating procedure is to team up with foreign firms during the exploration phase, but holds the right to take a 51% in the block once a commercial find is made. PetroVietnam was involved in a dispute with its northern neighbour last December when Beijing accused it of 'unilateral oil and gas exploration activities'.
For more background on the China-Japan Islands dispute, please refer to our previous news story dated 30 September 2013.
Monday, 30 September 2013
China's President Xi Jinping said Monday that he will not meet Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit this week, following comments made by Abe at a news conference in New York over a disputed islet. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Abe said that “Japan will not make a concession on our territorial integrity,” but stressed that he did not wish to escalate the issue any further, despite what he called “intrusions by Chinese government vessels in our territorial waters.”
Relations between the second and third-largest economies in the world have been strained during the last year, as Japan has remained defiant of its territorial rights over islands in the East China Sea in the face of an increasingly robust foreign policy by China. Ships and aircraft from both sides have been involved in provocative military exercises in each other's back yards for over a year, since Japan officially bought three of the islands from a private owner in September 2012.
It is believed the eight uninhabited islands, referred to as the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands by Japan and China respectively, are located near potentially lucrative oil and gas reserves, strategic shipping lanes and in valuable fishing waters. The island's exclusive economic zone would grant the controlling state sovereignty over these resources. Unsurprisingly, Chinese protests over the sovereignty of the islands only began in the mid-1970s, after the oil and gas discoveries were first made.
China's claims to the islands date back many centuries, historically serving as important fishing waters for the Chinese province of Taiwan. In the 19th century, they were ceded, along with Taiwan, to Japan in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki. They were formally incorporated into Japanese territory, as part of the Ryukyu Islands (modern day Okinawa), that same year and retained that status until after the Second World War.
In 1951, Japan's claim to Taiwan was renounced in the Treaty of San Francisco, and the islands subsequently fell under US trusteeship until they were returned to Japan twenty years later. Despite the question of sovereignty over the islands being raised in both 1951 and 1971, China at no point contested the outcomes of those formal agreements. Beijing has retrospectively argued that they should have been returned, but the Kuomintag leader, Chiang Kai-shek, did not make these feelings heard at the time. Worth noting is that the islands are also claimed by Taiwan.
Friday, 20 September 2013
Nicaragua has instituted proceedings against Colombia once again over a dispute concerning maritime borders in the oil-rich Caribbean Sea. According to the ICJ, the “dispute concerns the delimitation of the boundaries between, on the one hand, the continental shelf of Nicaragua beyond the 200-nautical-mile limit from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea of Nicaragua is measured, and on the other hand, the continental shelf of Colombia”. Nicaragua now contends that its “continental margin extends more than 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea of Nicaragua is measured.”
The new claim was made following comments from Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, who rejected the previous ruling by the ICJ in November 2012 following an 11-year case between the two neighbours, saying that a resolution could only be achieved through a bilateral accord. That ruling, entitled “Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v.Colombia),” stipulated that the ownership of the San Andres islands would remain with Colombia, but that the waters east of the 82ndmeridian, surrounding the uninhabited archipelago, would fall within Nicaragua's economic zone, a decision that President Daniel Ortega celebrated at the time. In response, Santos said that Colombia no longer recognised the jurisdiction of the ICJ and subsequently threatened to pull out of the Bogota Treaty of 1948, which recognises the court's rulings.
Colombia's recent remarks come amid news that Nicaragua intends to auction off dozens of offshore oil blocks in the disputed 11,000km2waters in the south western Caribbean Sea, thought not only to be rich in shrimp and lobster, but also oil and gas. Last month Bogota's Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin wrote a letter to Managua in protest at what she regards as the flagrant courting of IOCs by her northern neighbour.
The two sides have been debating the maritime border since 1819, when they became independent from Spain. They settled the border and the sovereignty of various Caribbean islands in 1928, but in 1980 Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista government annulled the treaty, claiming that it was signed under pressure from Washington. However the ICJ said in 2007 that the treaty remained valid.
San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina lie 775km off the Colombian coast and 230km off Nicaragua's.
Tuesday, 3 September 2013
India's Defence minister A K Antony said yesterday that his country was “strengthening its capabilities on the border” with China, while at the same time seeking an amicable solution to a boundary conflict that has raged for decades. Speaking in Hindon at the induction ceremony of a new aircraft into the Indian Air Force, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, he stated that the Indian action was in response to Chinese efforts to strengthen their position along the Asian neighbours' 3,500 km border. A joint military exercise is meant to be taking place soon; however a date has not yet been set.
Antony's comments follow a number of confrontations in recent months. In April, Chinese troops crossed into the Ladakh sector of Jammu and Kashmir and pitched tents, only leaving after three weeks and a series of negotiations. Then, on June 17, Chinese troops once again entered Indian territory, specifically the Chumar area of the Ladakh sector, confiscating a surveillance camera which they later returned. In a recent report commissioned by the Prime Minister's Office, it was revealed that Indian troops had been aggressively prevented from patrolling areas of the border region, such as Daulet Beg Oldi and Chumar, by Chinese forces.
India and China relations have been tense and prone to flare-ups since the two fought a border war in 1962. When Britain withdrew as the colonial power and granted independence to India in 1947, it left behind a myopic legacy of clumsily drawn borders between India and its northern neighbours. The area of Kashmir is no exception, and has been the scene of intense conflict between India and Pakistan and, more recently, has seen territorial claims by China with the support of Islamabad, its ally in South Asia. In the last 50 years, New Delhi and Beijing have held 15 rounds of talks in an effort to settle their border dispute, almost to no avail.
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
India has sent a committee to its eastern province of Manipur, on the border with Myanmar, to review work on its 10km border fence with its neighbour, following reports that Myanmarese troops made an incursion onto Indian land on 22 August. The soldiers are said to have entered Indian territory through the border town of Moreh and begun felling trees to set up a temporary camp at Holenphai village in Manipur's Chandel district, claiming that the land was rightly theirs and fell within Myanmar's jurisdiction.
The decision to send the committee, headed by Chairman Suresh Babu, was taken during an emergency cabinet meeting convened on Saturday night by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. The meeting was called after a discussion the same day between the group charged with protecting the border area, the Assam Rifles, and their Myanmar counterpart, achieved little progress. Moreh Governor Ashwini Kumar will also be visiting the area tomorrow to assess the claims of the Myanmar troops, who are currently situated 3km south of Moreh police station and 10m inside the Indian side of the newly erected border demarcation.
Concerns over the border fence fomented into unrest shortly after construction began by the Indian Home Ministry in March 2003, following a joint survey that lasted six months. Protests by the people of Moreh, Chorokhunou and Molchan, which stalled building for a short period, sought to bring to the attention of the authorities the fact that the newly-built fence would bifurcate the indigenous Naga, Chin and Kuki ethnic communities in the area, whose lands straddle the border zone. In light of recent events and comments by Babu, who told journalists that what was being erected was a 'security' fence not a border fence, local groups have threatened once again to demonstrate against construction.
The Indian province of Manipur shares a 398km border with Myanmar. Prior to 2003, the porous border between the two South Asian neighbours was seen as a transit point for drug-trafficking and blamed for the deaths of hundreds of security personnel killed in militancy-related violence.
Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Costa Rica's Foreign Minister, Enrique Castillo, announced that his country was forced to shut its consulate in Managua over the weekend following a series of demonstrations against the embassy and its staff. Castillo, who labelled the protestors as “xenophobic”, said that they came up against demonstrators even after relocating to another site outside the capital. Costa Rican residents of Nicoya have a planned a counter-demonstration for tomorrow.
The marches follow news last week that Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega threatened to make a claim, through the ICJ, on the Costa Rican domain of Guanacaste at celebrations marking the 33rd anniversary of Nicaragua's navy. Costa Rica's Ambassador to the UN, Eduardo Ulibarri, responded to the statement some days later on CNN, saying that over a dozen letters had been sent to the UN Security Council in protest at what he deemed to be “constant provocations” by Ortega, saying that the latest was “ disrespectful…from the point of view of Costa Rica's territorial integrity.”
On 14 August, the day after Ortega's naval celebration statement, Nicaragua publicly announced that the Ocean Saratoga, an offshore drilling platform owned by Noble Energy, had initiated drilling the country's first exploratory oil well 168km offshore Bluefields on the Caribbean coast. The exploration, set to finish in mid-November, will drill to a depth of nearly 3.5km. The Latin American neighbours are in a singular position in that they lack any treaty delimiting their maritime borders, despite sharing two coastal areas. Bilateral negotiations began in 2002, but came to an abrupt halt in 2005 after Costa Rica presented a formal request against Nicaragua to the ICJ regarding rights of navigation in the San Juan River, what many have called the “ sanjuanización” of the bilateral agenda.
Proceedings were then instituted by Costa Rica against Nicaragua in 2010, over the alleged occupation of Costa Rican territory in relation to dredging of the San Juan River. They argue that this activity violated their territorial rights, as spelled out in the 1858 Cañas-Jerez Treaty and the 1888 Cleveland Award, which awarded ownership of the River to Nicaragua, although commercial navigation rights were afforded to Costa Rica.
The second proceedings were instituted by Nicaragua against Costa Rica in December of the following year, citing “major environmental damages” in its territory resulting from major works, namely the construction of a road on the Costa Rican side of the border. Then, on 6 August 2012, Nicaragua filed four counter-claims in the first case, which were raised objectionably by Costa Rica to the ICJ, as well as Managua's request that the two cases be joined.
Thursday, 15 August 2013
Forum Energy Company (FEC) has made an expression of interest to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) earlier this month to begin exploration for gas and oil in the disputed West Philippines Sea. The company, which boasts a number of projects in the Philippines, can already navigate 18 miles off the coast of Palawan, under the conditions set out in its Service Contracts 40 and 72. FEC presented its case to the directors of the PCSD at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan Session Hall on 2 August.
Governor of Palawan Jose Alvarez, who attended the presentation, reassured FEC that it would not restrict the company's efforts to explore further afield offshore Palawan, instead urging caution and care, particularly in relation to the natural environment, insisting that the PCSD would fully support pro-development projects on the condition that they were non-intrusive and benefitted the local community. Regarding the safety of the UK oil firm's employees in the waters of the highly disputed West Philippine Sea, Chief of Staff of the Western Command, Colonel Emmanuel Salamat, claimed that the strong Philippine military presence in the area would ensure the security of FEC's offshore operations.
China lays claim to, and has de facto control of, virtually the entire South China Sea, despite the claims of a total of six countries to maritime territory in the South China Sea. This horseshoe-shaped area, delineated by China's so-called “nine-dash line”, stretches over a vast area that Beijing claims historical rights to. Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert Del Rosario, argues that this territory encompasses not only the entire South China Sea but also violates Philippine rights to a Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, an EEZ and a continental shelf, as stipulated by UNCLOS.
Last year saw a standoff involving Chinese military ships and Philippine vessels after the former took control of the Scarborough Shoal, referred to by China as Nansha, over 500km due West of Manila. The Philippines also lay claim to the Spratly Islands, which lie in the vicinity of Palawan, under the legal justification of Res Nullius. Beijing insists on its “indisputable sovereignty over the islands in [the] South China Sea and its adjacent waters” and has refused calls by its maritime neighbour to settle the dispute through arbitration.
Cameroon took full control over the disputed Bakassi peninsula today, marking the end of the five-year transitional period given to both Cameroon and Nigeria to implement the ICJ verdict in 2002. The ruling, which found that sovereignty rested with Cameroon, gave the Nigerian government a ten-year window to appeal against the decision. President Goodluck Jonathan declined to do so, a move praised by the UN but condemned by many Nigerian politicians, who called it a political blunder.
The 40,000-strong population of the peninsula is over 90% Nigerian. They have had more than a decade to decide whether to keep their identity as it is, migrate to Nigeria or accept Cameroonian nationality. Cameroon has had troops stationed in the area since August 14 2008 and established several military bases, under the pretext of combating Nigerian piracy in the supposedly oil-rich waters off the coast of the peninsula.
The government in Cameroon has remained largely silent in the lead-up to this significant day. As small pockets of resistance from armed militia groups across the Bakassi territory have opposed Cameroon's full takeover of peninsula, it is likely this tactic by the authorities in Yaoundé has sought to prevent any further outbreaks of nationalist sentiment or inflame locals who might have chosen this day to make their voices heard in the streets.
The dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria rumbled on for decades, and the two sides almost went to war over the peninsula in 1981. The case was taken to the ICJ in 1994 by Cameroon following further armed clashes in the early 1990s. What followed was a complex case based on colonial-era correspondence and diplomatic agreements drawn up by the imperial powers Britain and Germany. Nigeria finally handed over control in 2008.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
Malawi President Joyce Banda has ruled out the possibility of an interim deal with Tanzania over their disputed border that runs through Lake Malawi. “ Malawi's position is that we own the entire lake, except for a portion ceded to Mozambique in 1954 for mutually beneficial reasons. The law clearly supports that position," said Banda on 14 July, suggesting also that the issue would be brought to the International Court of Justice if a resolution was not reached by September.
The announcement came in a press conference following talks with the former presidents of Mozambique and South Africa, Joachim Chissanoand Thabo Mbeki, who were on an official visit to Lilongwe to help mediate between both parties. Chissano, who now heads the Southern Africa Development Corporation (SADC) Forum of Former Heads of State and Government, which has been an active player in the five decade old dispute since the case was referred to it earlier this year, pledged his team would present Malawi's concerns to Tanzania and aim to reach an agreement within three months.
Malawi claims the majority of Lake Malawi, Africa's third-largest lake, according to a colonial-era document, the 1890 Anglo-German Treaty, while Tanzania insists that the lake should be shared equitably between them, based on the guidelines on maritime boundaries set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Tensions have risen after Malawi awarded a contract to Britain's Surestream Petroleum last year to prospect for oil in the Lake near the Tanzanian coast. The region is believed to be extremely rich in natural gas and oil.
Friday, 5 July 2013
The ICJ this week fixed time-limits for the filing of initial pleadings in the case concerning 'Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean' between Bolivia and Chile. The Plurinational State of Bolivia, who initiated proceedings, must file a Memorial by 17 April 2014, and the Republic of Bolivia must follow this pleading by filing its Counter-Memorial by 18 February 2015. The filing of Memorials and Counter-Memorials is standard practise in the Hague, to outline the initial positions of both parties, however, no decision has been made by the court regarding what subsequent procedures may follow.
On 24 April Bolivia instituted proceedings in the ICJ against Chile to reclaim sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean: territory that it lost in the 19thcentury War of the Pacific. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has responded by rejecting talks, asking the ICJ to dismiss Bolivia's application, as he believes it threatens to open a “Pandora's Box” of international border disputes.
The 400km strip of coastal territory was annexed by Chile in the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, following the five-year conflict over mining rights. Hostilities between the neighbours have lingered since then, with repeated attempts to renegotiate the border failing. Bolivia, which still maintains a small navy and celebrates the Day of the Sea each year to honour its once substantial maritime territory, maintains that the 1904 Treaty is void, as it was signed under coercion from Chile. Authorities in Santiago however remain steadfast in opposing Bolivia's claim, with diplomatic ties not being re-established since they were broken off in 1978.
Tuesday, 25 June 2013
A visit today by Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to Indian-administered Kashmir comes a day after militants killed eight troops in the Hyderpora area of Srinagar, the main city in the region. Singh, who was there along with Congress party Chief Sonia Gandhi to open a power project in Kishtwar, did not comment on the attack, however, security has been stepped up in Srinagar following the incident.
The attack marks a recent spike in military activity in the disputed territory between India and Pakistan, which has born witness to an insurgency since 1989. Over the weekend, two policemen were shot and killed by militants after India launched sustained mortar shelling of targets in Rawalakot, Pakistani-administered Kashmir, last week, killing a nine-year-old girl and injuring several others. Considering that similar skirmishes in this district back in January almost derailed the two neighbours' fragile peace negotiations, this increase in violence is extremely worrying and could be indicative of a slowly resurrecting insurgency that was at its peak in the 1990s.
Pakistan is blamed for fuelling the Islamist insurgency that erupted in 1989 and has claimed nearly 70,000 lives. Islamabad has denied directly sponsoring the insurgency but has admitted that its territory was used by militant groups who are battling India's control of Kashmir. Border skirmishes also broke out in 1998, lasting 11 weeks and claiming the lives of 1,200 soldiers.
Since the creation of separate India and Pakistan states in 1947 after independence from Britain, the issue of the Muslim-majority Kashmir has remained unsolved. The two countries have fought three wars, of which two have been over Kashmir. The tensions have remained ever since and have been especially fuelled since 1998 when both countries became nuclear states. Both India and Pakistan control part of Kashmir, but claim it in full.
Thursday, 20 June 2013
Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Monday that Cambodia has agreed to maintain peace along its disputed border with Thailand, irrespective of the ICJ's upcoming decision concerning the territory surrounding Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple. Since it was approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 7 July 2008, the Temple has been the scene of intermittent conflict between Cambodia and Thailand, the latter claiming ownership of the 4.6 km² of territory adjacent to the site.
"Whatever decision the ICJ makes, the Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Thai government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will abide by the court's decision, and we will maintain friendship, cooperation and serenity along the border," said Namhong to the Director General of UNESCO,Irina Bokova, who welcomed the announcement, agreeing that a peaceful solution was in tune with UNESCO's vision of protecting heritage sites all over the world. The Court is expected to rule on the disputed land, which has tested relations between the two south-east Asian nations for decades, by the end of this year.
Cambodia filed an application to the ICJ on 28 April 2011 requesting an interpretation of the Court's judgement on 15 June 1962 (which ruled in favour of Cambodia) concerning the century-long border dispute in and around the area of the Preah Vihear Temple in the Dangrek Mountains. In the 2011 application, Cambodia stressed the need for Thailand to withdraw its troops from the area, cease all military activity in the vicinity and refrain from any act that could aggravate the dispute, lest irreparable damage be done to relations between the two parties. Thailand refuted the claims that there was still a dispute and that these special provisions regarding its military be implemented. The Court ruled against Bangkok and has since heard opening statements from both parties.
Monday, 3 June 2013
As IOCs have ramped up their activities in the Mediterranean Sea this year, amid the announcement of a licensing round scheduled for November in Lebanon, discoveries offshore Israel and significant exploration activities offshore Cyprus, several independents, including Genel Energy and Cairn Energy, have been awarded permits to explore for oil offshore Malta.
Heritage Oil, which shares licences for Areas 2 and 7 with the Maltese government, amounting to an area over 18,000 km² some 80 km off Malta's southeast coast, has announced that these Areas are “underexplored” and hinted at the existence of deepwater prospects after analysing newly acquired 2D seismic data. Despite the Jersey-based company's intention to drill a high-impact well in this area, it is awaiting the resolution of a border dispute between Malta and Libya before it can commence drilling.
Dating back to 1974, the border dispute between Malta and Libya started when Valetta awarded Texaco four blocks that lay north of the median line between Malta and Libya. After Texaco spudded their first well in 1980, exploration activities were forced to a halt following the despatch of a gunboat by Tripoli.
The dispute was taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1982. After considering the case for three years, it was decided that the border would lie 18' north of the median line, to account for the disparity in the length of Libya and Malta's respective coastlines. Although both sides accepted the agreement, it only applied to a narrow strip of water and so border disputes continue to this day. Area 7, in which Heritage wants to drill, lies to the east and south of the designated border, and as such, Libya considers it to be in its territory. This was reaffirmed to Heritage by the Libya National Oil Company (LNOC) in 2008, shortly after the company received the block.
While the revolution in Libya may have removed from power those who were initially involved in the border dispute in the early 1980s, as well as the head of the LNOC who communicated with Heritage in 2008, and presented new security challenges to the current administration, there is no doubt that the oil-rich North African state will respond robustly if it feels Malta is drilling within the Libyan continental shelf. The imperative to resolve this long-standing border dispute will become more acute as the new finds lure larger oil and gas players into the increasingly competitive Mediterranean operating environment.
Thursday, 23 May 2013
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has rejected an application filed by Nicaragua in relation to its boundary dispute with Costa Rica, declaring the four counter-claims over Isla Calero, the small border territory between the neighbours, as inadmissible. Uniquely, the ICJ has also considered it appropriate to join two separate proceedings between the neighbours, at the request of Nicaragua, as to allow a single set of hearings and the delivery of a single judgement.
In its reasoning for the joinder, the ICJ says that both cases, 'Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area' and 'Construction of a Road in Costa Rica along the San Juan River', concern the same parties, a common border, activities in the San Juan River, the surrounding environmental implications and the same disputed treaty.
These counter-claims were dismissed unanimously by the ICJ on 1 May 2013. The first of these, relating to environmental damage, was declared “without object”. The second and third claims, in which Nicaragua requested greater sovereignty and free navigation rights, were ruled inadmissible. Finally, the fourth claim, alleging that Costa Rica did not implement the provisional measures set out by the ICJ on 8 March 2011, was deemed not necessary to entertain, as it will be further examined in the upcoming proceedings.
The first proceedings were instituted by Costa Rica against Nicaragua in 2010, over the alleged occupation of Costa Rican territory in relation to dredging of the San Juan River by Nicaragua. They argue that this activity violated their territorial rights, as spelled out in the 1858 Cañas-Jerez Treaty and the 1888 Cleveland Award, which awarded ownership of the River to Nicaragua, although commercial navigation rights were afforded to Costa Rica.
The second proceedings were instituted by Nicaragua against Costa Rica in December of the following year, citing “major environmental damages” in its territory resulting from major works, namely the construction of a road on the Costa Rican side of the border. Then, on 6 August 2012, Nicaragua filed four counter-claims in the first case, which were raised objectionably by Costa Rica to the ICJ, as well as Managua's request that the two cases be joined.
Wednesday, 20 February 2013
China's Foreign Minister Hong Lei announced on 19 February that Beijing has rejected the Philippines' application for international arbitration over both states claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea which is known as the West Philippine Sea by Manila. The latter's Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert del Rosario, had announced on 22 January that the Philippines had taken the step of bringing China before an Arbitral Tribunal, under Article 287 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The move followed nearly 17 years of unsuccessful bilateral discussions, initiated by the Philippines in 1995, over sovereignty of the potentially oil-rich waters.
China lays claim to, and controls, virtually the entire area, despite six countries claiming maritime territory in the South China Sea. This horseshoe-shaped area, delineated by China's so-called “nine-dash line”, stretches over a vast area that Beijing claims historical rights to. Rosario argues that this territory encompasses not only the entire South China Sea but also violates Philippine rights to a Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, an EEZ and a continental shelf, as stipulated by UNCLOS.
China's rejection of arbitration comes amid growing tension in Asian waters. Last year saw a standoff involving Chinese military ships and Philippine vessels after the former took control of the Scarborough Shoal, referred to by China as Nansha, over 500km due West of Manila. Following that incident, in which the Philippines eventually withdrew, China also engaged in military drills in the East China Sea, a clear show of force to Japan over their ownership of the disputed islets of Senkaku. The Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs has said that he will not be deterred by China's intransigence and will continue to press for arbitration over the regional hegemon's “excessive claim”.
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
On Friday 15 February the Lebanese authorities announced the launch of a pre-qualification round for those IOCs interested in its offshore acreage. The statement came after news that up to 675 million barrels (MMB) of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas have been discovered in Lebanese waters adjacent to its northern maritime border with Cyprus and Syria. So far up to 30 IOCs have expressed their interest with contracts due to be signed in 12 months and drilling to begin at the end of 2015.
Despite the obvious potential, as witnessed by the US Geological Survey's (USGS) 2010 estimate that the Levant Basin as a whole could contain two billion barrels of oil and up to 123 TCF of gas, it has taken over two years for the government in Beirut – which has been dogged by slow-motion politics, neighbouring conflicts, and sectarian divides - to establish a Petroleum Administration to handle applications from IOCs bidding on exploration blocks. The delay has been compounded by the issue of the region's unresolved maritime border disputes.
In 2007 a bilateral agreement was signed between Lebanon and Cyprus on the delimitation of the former's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but, in protest at the 2010 bilateral agreement between Cyprus and Israel, it has never been ratified by the Lebanese government. There is a disputed area of 874 km2, as Israel began its maritime border with Cyprus at Point 1 which coincided with the final point demarcated between Lebanon and Cyprus. Beirut argues, however, that this final coordinate was deliberately chosen because it was in uncontested Lebanese waters and that the de jure border should actually lie 17 kms further at Point 23. This dispute, as well as Turkish political pressure on Lebanon, has also held up the ratification of the 2007 Lebanese-Cypriot agreement, despite the existence of clauses in these agreements to accommodate for amendments.
In a move to hasten the acceptance of an agreement and strike an accord between Lebanon and Israel, which technically still remain in a state of war, Cyprus' outgoing President Demetris Christofias signed a memorandum of understanding with Lebanon's President Michel Sleiman in January 2013 to “ to increase co-operation to agree on principles and sound means that would allow us to extract this resource.” This latest discovery, plus the huge discoveries already made in both uncontested Israeli and Cypriot waters, have put fresh impetus on all sides to come to an agreement which will enable the whole of the Levantine Basin to be explored without violating each other's maritime sovereignty.