Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

4. International conflict over marine resources in south-east asia: trends in politicization and Militarization

4.1 Present and future conflict over marine resources
4.2 Common threads in the pattern of conflict
4.3 Conflict
4.4 New directions for co-operation
4.5 Progressive management concepts


Mark J. Valencia

SINCE the late 1960s, marine awareness of nations has been enhanced by technological advances in marine use and resource exploitation capabilities, increased expectations of benefits from potential ocean resources, and perceptions that the 'freedom of the high seas' was advantageous to those countries with the knowledge, capital, and technology to harvest ocean resources. This enhanced marine awareness has resulted in widespread unilateral extensions of national jurisdiction over ocean resources out to 200 nmi or more from shore. All the coastal countries in South East Asia have extended their maritime jurisdictions, leaving areal winners and losers, and many areas where claims overlap. The coastal states of South-East Asia are now engaged in efforts to identify and pursue their national development interests in the ocean arena. The superimposition of a mosaic of national policies on transnational resources and activities multiplies the possibilities for international competition and conflict. The interest of the developed world in the new resources gainedparticularly oil and sea lanes-may exacerbate intraregional conflicts. Extension of jurisdiction may thus have opened a Pandora's box of continued uneven growth; volatile mixtures of competition, nationalism, and militarization; superpower involvement; environmental degradation; and increased technological and market dependence on the developed world.

4.1 Present and future conflict over marine resources

The Settings: Comparative Advantage and Disadvantage

The geography of political entities in the region is remarkably maritime. With extension of jurisdiction, this geography presupposes there will be areal conflicts and possibly explosive resource inequities. Several countries in the region have gained enormous marine areas with extended jurisdiction (Figure 4.1). The largest of these gains were made by Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam; others, such as shelf-locked Kampuchea, Brunei, Singapore, and Thailand and land-locked Laos, were much less fortunate. Malaysia, although gaining considerable area, has been divided by Indonesia's Natuna salient.

Area gained is not by itself a measure of resource wealth. Water depth is a factor in hydrocarbon exploitation, mineral dredging, biological productivity, and bottom fish catch. In South-East Asia, the continental shelves are underlain by thick Tertiary sedimentary basins and thus contain possible petroleum deposits. Their shallow depth also offers the possibility of mining for detrital minerals and trawling for demersal fish. Continental shelf underlies the small areas gained by Kampuchea and Singapore and 50 per cent of that gained by Malaysia and Thailand, but only lo per cent of that gained by the Philippines. Countries with approximately equal areas of shelf and deeper water are Brunei, Burma, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Countries claiming geographic disadvantage due to extended jurisdiction include Laos, Kampuchea, Thailand, and Singapore. Laos is land-locked and desires guaranteed marine access as well as compensatory access to neighbouring countries' marine resources. Kampuchea is shelf-locked and has a restricted coastline, and Brunei is nearly shelf-locked; both are zone-locked and have marine access only on a semi-enclosed sea. Thailand is both shelf-locked and zonelocked in the South China Sea. Moreover, the Thai distant-water fishing grounds in the South China Sea have come under Malaysian, Kampuchean, Vietnamese, and Indonesian jurisdiction (Valencia, 1981: 302-55).

Singapore lacks an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a 200-nmi expanse from shore over which the coastal state has exclusive resource jurisdiction. It has little continental shelf, and its minuscule maritime territory is surrounded by that of other states. Nevertheless, its geographic position makes it the linchpin of the Indian OceanStrait of Malacca-South China Sea-Pacific Ocean trade route. Singapore's economy depends more on the and on seafaring than does that of any other state in the region, and its influence on maritime affairs in the region is second to none because of its position as one of the world's foremost ports. As the maritime centre of ASEAN and as a centre for warehousing and pre- and postmarine exploitation services, Singapore may actually benefit from the extended maritime jurisdiction of its neighbours. However, if its neighbours become hostile and competitive in the marine sphere, Singapore could have serious economic and political problems.

Figure 4.1 South-East Asia: Extended Maritime Jurisdiction and Claim Overlaps.

Source: J. R. V. Prescott (1983), 'Mantime Jurisdiction and Boundaries', in J. R. Morgan and M.J. Valencia, eds., Atlas for Marine Policy in Southeast Asian Seas, Berkeley: University of California Press, P 43

Conflicts over Oil and Gas

Extended maritime jurisdiction encompasses many sedimentary basins having hydrocarbon potential (Figure 4.2). Much of the resource is speculative and will not be proven until it is drilled and discovered. For many countries, the potential is worth several times their annual GNPs (Table 4. 1).

Consequently, for South-East Asian countries, increasing energy demands, decreasing energy supplies, and a greater reliance on foreign oil are spurring offshore exploration for new sources of production (Valencia, 1985a). Also, the expanded use of natural gas and its more realistic pricing as a premium fuel are factors encouraging companies and governments to explore for additional gas reserves (Gaffney et al., 1982). In 1975, 20 per cent of crude oil in the region was produced from offshore; by 1980, the proportion had risen to about 50 per cent. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines are the only countries with established offshore hydrocarbon potential. China's Mainland Shelf has become a major focus of exploration activity. Vietnam is being assisted in its offshore seareh by the Soviet Union, as is Burma by Japan.

Potential hydrocarbon-bearing areas with multiple claimants (Figure 4.2) include the northern Andaman Sea (India and Burma); the eastern Gulf of Thailand (Vietnam, Thailand, and Kampuchea); the south-western Gulf of Thailand (Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam); the area north, west, and east of Natuna (Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China); offshore Brunei (Brunei, Malaysia, China, and Vietnam); the Gulf of Tonkin (China and Vietnam); the Dangerous Ground (Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and China); and the north-eastern South China Sea (China and Taiwan).

TABLE 4.1 Rough Gross Value of Oil and Gas Resources Gained by Extended Jurisdiction

Country Shelf Area
(to 200-m isobath)
'ooo sq. km
('ooosq. nmi)
Ultimately Recoverable Offshore Resources Value(USS billion) Total Value
(US5 billion)
1980 CNP
(USS billion)
(billion bbl)
Oil Gas
Brunei 9.6(2.8) 1—10 0.1—1.0 15—150 0.25 - 2 5 15.25—152 5 0.46 (1975)
Burma 229 5(66.9) 1—10 10—100 15—150 25—250 40 - 400 5 0 (GDP)
(South China Sea)
  1-10 10-100 15-150 25-250 40-400 55 (+ 3 for
Ta1wan in 1979)
Indonesia 2 777(809.6) 10-100 10-100 150-1,500 25-250 175-1,750 67 0
Kampuchea 55 6(16.2) 1-10 1-10 1S-1S0 2.5-25 17 5-175 0.5
Malaysia 373.5(108.9) 10-100 10-100 150-1500 25—250 175—1,750 21.6
178.4(52.0) 1—10 10-100 15-150 25—250 40 - 400 35 1
0.3(0.1) n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. 10.5 (GDP)
257.6(75 I) 1—10 10—100 15—1 50 25-250 40 - 400 32
404(I 17 8) 1-10 1-10 15-150 2.5-25 17.5-175 4 9

Figure 4.2 South-East Asia: Potential Areas of Conflict over Hydrocarbons.

Source: M.J. Valencia (1983), 'Maritime Jurisdiction and Oil and Gas Potential'. in Morgan and Valencia, eds.. .Atlas for Marine Policy in Southeast Asian Seas, p. 132.

TABLE 4.2 Rough Gross Value of Oil and Gas in Overlapping Claim Areas




(US$ billion
(billion bbl)
(trillion cu.ft)
(US$ billion)
(US$ billion)
Gulf of Tonkin 1—10 n. a. 1 5—1 50 n. a. 5-1 50
Dangerous Ground ? 0.1- 1.0 ? 0.25-2 5 0 25-2 5
Natuna ? 1-l0 ? 25-250 25-250
Eastern Gulf of Thailand l-l0 1- 10 15 - 150 25- 250 40-400
Offshore Brunei l-10 10-100 15-150 250-2,500 265-2,650
Arafura Sea l0-l00 ? 150-1,500 ? 150-1,500

The disputed area offshore from Brunei and that in the Arafura Sea may contain up to US$2.65 trillion and US$1.5 trillion worth of oil and gas respectively (Table 4.2). The disputed basins in the eastern Gulf of Thailand may contain USS40 billion to US$400 billion worth of oil and gas. And the Natuna area may contain from US$25 billion to US$250 billion worth of gas and oil. It is small wonder the various countries are adamant about their claims to and interests in these areas.

Trouble Spots


In the Timor Sea, Australia and Indonesia have negotiated a joint development agreement to resolve a dispute that began in February 1979. In the Sulawesi Sea, Malaysian and Indonesian differences over Pulau Sipadan continue to surface, intensified by possible hydrocarbon potential in the channel where the island is situated. In the eastern Gulf of Thailand, Kampuchea has protested Thailand's. renewal of a concession to Amoco, which it asserts encroaches on Kampuchea's claimed continental shelf, and similarly, Vietnam has warned Thailand not to allow international companies to explore for oil in areas claimed by Vietnam or Kampuchea. The warning followed the Thai renewal of concessions to Union and to a Japanese company (Business Day, 1983). In July 1982, Vietnam and Heng Samrin Kampuchea settled their boundary dispute and agreed on joint historical internal waters where petroleum and fisheries will be developed by 'common agreement'. However, the clandestine Voice of Democratic Kampuchea denounced this agreement as null and void and rejected the 12 November 1982 Vietnamese declaration of baselines for territorial waters that incorporated areas claimed by Kampuehea (PN, September 1982; FBIS, 1983).


In the Natuna area, Indonesia believes Vietnam keeps the overlap area in dispute to prevent Indonesia from developing petroleum there. Indonesia included the area in its contract block system and has given approval to several American contract holders to proceed with exploration. On 29 November 1979, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry issued a statement regretting Pertamina's 20 Mareh 1979 invitation for exploration bids in Natuna Blocks A, B, C, and 1)-l to D6 in the disputed area and stated that foreign companies should pay attention to this matter and should not conduct survey and exploration operations in the disputed area without Vietnam 's consent. About this time, an Indonesian naval patrol intercepted foreign armed vessels believed to be Vietnamese' near the Natuna Islands (van der Kroef, 1982). Indonesia has promised military assistance to the American oil companies if they are bothered by Vietnam, and in 1981 Indonesia undertook a massive military exercise in the area to defend against a mock attack from the north. The possibility of a South China Sea conflict with Vietnam was an important stimulus to the purchase of military hardware from the United States (Crouch, 1985). Three American oil companies-Amoseas, Gulf, and Marathon-continue to explore in the disputed area under production-sharillg contracts with Pertamina, despite the warnings by Vietnam,


The Spratly Islands have long borne the seeds of international conflict. They are claimed and now occupied in varying degrees by forces of China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam (Figure 4.3). 011 14 Mareh 1988, the dispute over ownership of the islands and the resources in their attendant 200-nmi EEZs erupted into violence when Chinese and Vietnamese troops and ships exchanged fire on and near Sinh Cow island. The Philippincs subsequently reinforced its garrisons on eight islands, and renewed its claim to most of the island group. Then in April 1988, the Malaysian Navy seized three Philippinc fishing vessels near Rizal Reef and detained their 49-member crew for fishing without a permit. They were subsequently released only after an appeal by President Corazon Aquino to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Many nations have been involved in offshore projects in the Spratly area, including China, the Philippine National Oil Company, and US companies. However, oil is only one factor in the milieu of international tensions focusing on the Spratly area. The Spratly Islands are strategic as bases for sea-lane defence, interdiction, and surveillance and possibly for launching of land attacks. The security interests of outside powers-Japan, the United States, and the Soviet Union-are involved (Nielsen, 1982: 70)

The dispute between Vietnam and China over the Spratlys is of particular interest to the Soviet Union, both as an ally and a supporter of Vietnam on this issue and as an enemy of China, because the controller of those islands could dominate the major sea lanes of communication. Vietnam believes China's objectives are to seize sole control of the sea, master this international lifeline, replace the US Navy in the region, hinder the Soviet Navy's navigation, apply political pressure on South-East Asian countries, build a military springboard in the region, seize territory, and exploit and plunder maritime resources.

Figure 4.3 Dangerous Ground: Claims and Occupations.

Sources: Updated from J. R. V. Prescott (1981), Maritirne Jurisdirtion in Southeast Asia: A Commentary and Map, East-West Environment and Policy Institute Researeh Report No. 2; 'Another Spratlys Spat', Asiaweek, 20 May 1988, pp. 26-7; Mark J. Valencia, 'AII -for-everyone Solution', Far Eastern Eronomic Review, 30 Mareh 1989, pp. 20-1

The Soviet Union would consider its naval mobility and capacity for stealth threatened by Chinese control of the islands. Similarly, the United States has a national security interest in unimpeded and occasionally undetected transit by vessels of the Seventh Fleet through the South China Sea. Finally, all concerned are aware the Japanese used Itu Aba as a submarine base and jumping-off point for its invasion of the Philippines in the Second World War (FBIS, 21 February 1984: K-3; del Mundo, 1982 A-II).

China considers the islands to be a means of countering the growing Soviet presence in the area as well as of monitoring Soviet naval movements (Nielsen, 1982: 68). Recently China reasserted its claim as its blue-water navy made its first ever sortie through the area shortly before the ASEAN foreign ministers held their annual meeting in Singapore (Stockwin, 1987). Apparently China's military forces have now occupied about six features in the area. Vietnam has warned that China will 'face all the consequences' if it does not remove them (Wedel, 1988). China does believe there is oil in the area and it may have been trying to settle the dispute to bolster investment and development of Hainan, which would serve as a base for Spratly oil exploration. Of course, China may also have been serving notice to Vietnam that China has the confidence and military clout to back up its claims there. In making far-reaching boundary claims, China is not necessarily serving notice that it actually intends to undertake oil development within the entire area claimed, but it may be motivated by a desire to corner oil development rights as a bargaining chip in dealing with littoral states.

In the Philippines, then President Mareos pledged to defend oil concessions located up to zoo nmi offshore, including those already granted. Manila considers the islands vital to the defence of its western perimeter. Sino-Soviet rivalry may explain the increased Philippine reliance on the United States to support its claims to the area. The Philippines, and perhaps the United States, sees its efforts to consolidate and strengthen its military presence in the Spratlys as one way to prevent Vietnamese (and thus Soviet) control from spreading over the area (Valencia, 1981: 330).

Vietnam has consistently voiced its intention to maintain sovereignty over the entire SpratIy arehipelago. Vietnamese forces now occupy about 20 features in the area. Vietnam's main garrison, Song Tu May, is about 25 nmi north-west of the Philippines' main garrison, Pagasa, and is fortified with heavy coastal artillery and antiaircraft guns (Park, l978). And Taiwan has occupied the largest island in the Spratly group, Tai Ping Dao, since 1956, and a force of 600 troops is maintained on the island (Cooper,1981: BRU-2).

In June 1983 Malaysia landed troops on Terumbu Layang Layang (Da Hoa Lau), 64 km south-east of An Bang (Ambon), and accommodation modules were ordered for the atoll. Just after the occupation, three F5E fighters were moved to Labuan to provide cover for the occupying troops. Malaysia is developing a naval base at Sungai Aute in Sibu, Sarawak, for missile-armed patrol craft operating in the South China Sea. The occupation was justified by indications that Vietnam intended to occupy the atoll. Malaysian forces have since occupied two more features in the area. Brunei, with its almost total economic dependence on petroleum, may make a claim to part of the area as well.


China, in granting contracts to US oil companies for exploration in the areas bordering the disputed area in the Gulf of Tonkin, has effectively merged US and Chinese interests in the event of a flare-up and has also pre-empted Hanoi's hope of wooing US oil companies. Also, US support for the Chinese position could be bolstered by the prospect of increased Chinese oil exports to ASEAN and Japan, and thus integration of China into a pattern of stable commercial relations with Japan, the United States, and ASEAN. Chinese troops continue to occupy scores of small but strategic positions on the mountainous border with Vietnam, not only for strategic reasons, but also for their use as bargaining chips in an overall settlement of the territorial dispute with Vietnam over the Gulf of Tonkin and the Spratly and Paracel Islands. At least half of the 600 vessels in China's South Sea fleet have been assigned to protection of the offshore oilfields and Chinese waters (Samuels, 1982: 139). Vietnam sees this as an attempt by China in collusion with the United States to eventually blockade Vietnam by controlling the sea lanes (Samuels, 1982: 139). Meanwhile, there are at least lo Soviet vessels in the South China Sea at any time and at least 20 Soviet long-range surveillance flights per year originating or ceding in Vietnam. China proved the seriousness of its island and maritime claims in 1974 when it forcefully expelled South Vietnamese troops from the Paracel Islands. The current SinoVietnamese conflict has sharply increased the strategic importance of the islands. Thus, the Soviet Union, now searehing for oil on behalf of its ally Vietnam, and the United States, on behalf of its oil companies, may be brought face to face in an area disputed by two ancient and bitter enemies.


The EEZ claimed by Taiwan encompasses areas in the Taiwan Strait offered for bidding by China, including discoveries in the Pearl River Basin (PN, August 1983; Honolulu Advertiser, 24 August 1983). The waters in the Taiwan Strait represent a particularly sensitive area in the geopolitics of East-West relations. China-Taiwan relations are likely to continue to be tense and stalemated for some time to come. Indeed, Taiwan fears that China may eventually be tempted to launch a fullseale attack or throw a naval blockade around the island. Such a blockade could severely damage Taiwan's oil-import-dependent and export oriented economy. Conflict over jurisdictional boundaries and oil resources in the Taiwan Strait could fuel China-Taiwan animosity and involve American oil companies and the US government as well.

Environmental Aspects

Exploration in deeper waters further offshore will have an environmental cost. Indonesia, the region's leading producer, is projected to experience two accidents every one and a half years. The region as a whole is expected to experience I.4 accidents per year resulting in spillage of 52 million tons of crude oil (Hann et al., 1981). Some of these spills could easily cross claimed national boundaries, e.g. between China and Vietnam or between Malaysia and Vietnam, and could exacerbate political tensions.

4.2 Common threads in the pattern of conflict

Overriding security concerns involving East-West tensions can hinder or help peaceful resolution of these disputes (ístreng, 1985). Competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for influence in the region, and consequently the Kampuchea issue and the Soviet-United States-China triangular relationship, affect the disputes in South-East Asia. Vietnam is an actor in all of the multiple claim areas in the South China Sea. The Soviet Union is an ally of Vietnam and has signed an agreement establishing a joint venture for exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons from the continental shelf of southern Vietnam (Oil and Gas Journal, 2 August 1982: 84). The United States is an ally of the Philippines and Thailand and a good friend of the remaining ASEAN countries and, until recently, of China. American oil companies hold concessions in all of the multiple claim areas except the Spratlys. Some of these areas are becoming increasingly militarized. All states in the region need to develop the resources to fuel their development drives through foreign exchange earnings. Thus, competition between regional states backed by their respective allies may exacerbate the militarization process.

Fisheries Disputes


Fisheries contribute only a few per cent or less of GNP of the ASEAN countries, but about 65 per cent of the animal protein consumed in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; and more than 2 million persons are employed in fisheries (excluding secondary employment). Further, ASEAN countries exported nearly US$1 billion worth of fish in 1980 (Table 4.3) and have an annual potential product of over US$5 billion. Most important, rural coastal peoples in South-East Asia depend on fish for nutrition, employment, and their way of life. Yet the resource is in danger of destruction brought about by overfishing and fishing with destructive methods like explosives, poisons, and very fine mesh nets, pollution, and destruction of coastal breeding areas (Asian Action, Mareh/April 1978: I).

TABLE 4.3 Socio-economic Contributions of the Marine Fishing in ASEAN Countries, 1980


Marine Catch'

Fishery Exports

Percentage of Protein from Fish Labour Force in
Marine Fiashing ('000 people)
Value (US$ million) Percentage of GNp2 Value (US$ million) As Percentage of Total Exports
Indonesia 964 1 4 226 1.0 65 1,650
Malaysia 644 2 7 135 1.1 65 109
Philippines 1,135 3.2 138 3.0 62 315
Singapore 45 nil 70 0.3 3 5 2
Thailand 382 1.1 354 5 3 n.a. 68
Total ASEAN 3,170 1 7 923 1 4 n.a. 2 144
Total SEA 6,615 n.a. 4.467      
% ASFAN/SEA 47.9 0       n a. a

Extended jurisdiction offers the possibility of enhanced offshore potential. However, the valuable species such as tuna and mackerel are already fished by distant-water fishing countries, and some national development policies view joint ventures with foreign companies as vehicles for the technically modern exploitation, processing, and marketing of these resources. Thus high-value fish are exported out of the region to developed countries while intraregional offshore and artisanal fishermen compete with each other for dwindling coastal resources, sometimes violently.

The rapid introduction of sophisticated fishing technology by private or state-controlled companies has seriously disrupted the traditional organization of small-seale fishermen. The construction of small trawlers has intensified the pressure on coastal stocks, and small-seale fishing has been neglected in development plans which focus on full-time fishermen. Although policy-makers in these countries are beginning to become more sensitive to the plight of small-seale fishermen, laws prohibiting the use of trawlers close to the coast have not been effectively enforced, and over-exploitation of stocks threatens job opportunities for fishermen.

For the distant-water fishing countries, the negotiation of fishing agreements and joint ventures is often the only way both to use the overcapitalized fleets and to continue to control the importation of fish products. In 1982, Japanese large-seale deepsea fishing enterprises participated in 184 joint ventures in 44 foreign countries. Not coincidentally, Japan supplies more than half of the bilateral fisheries aid given to the countries in the region (Josupeit, 1983). Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands have also supplied European fishing boats and researeh boats.

Aquaculture is often seen as a panacea for diminished stocks, lost access to fisheries, and the resultant loss of food and cheap animal protein. However, it would be premature to present aquaculture as a remedy to the problems of maritime fishing. Many of the development programmes for aquaculture have been disappointing. Further, most aquaculture enterprises to date focus largely on highvalue species, e.g. shrimp for export to the developed world. Aquaculture requires a relatively high capital investment, and potential mariculturists are often reluctant to invest because of the uncertainty of ownership laws. Pollution is also a deterrent. Thus the anticipated benefits have not materialized, and the potential of aquaculture remains largely unrealized.


Extended maritime jurisdictional claims are shown superimposed on total present marine catch in Figure 4.4, giving a rough picture of the amount being caught in each country's claim area, although not necessarily by the country itself. Several areas of overlapping claims may harbour fisheries potential of significant gross value. For example, the Dangerous Ground (US$8.4 million/yr), the Miangas area (as much as US$7.4 million/yr), and the eastern Gulf of Thailand (about US$7.3 million/yr) are especially promising (Table 4.4).

Potential fish product quantities and values (Table 4.4) range from negative for the Philippines and Thailand to a factor of three for Malaysia. However, these optimistic projections must be tempered by realistic cost estimates as well as the elasticity of demand for fish. Rapid expansion towards the potential goal could depress prices and result in negative returns. Diseconomies of seale can be anticipated in relation to vessel efficiency. Mover, good port space IS a searee resource, resource, to rising marginal costs. Finally, expansion of the fisheries would draw labour and other resources from other sectors of the economies. It is thus uncertain if the resulting social opportunity costs for any nation would be offset by the increased value of product.


The seareh for fish for export and domestic use by distant-water fishers produces conflict with states trying to protect their newly gained resources. Numerous enforcement actions have resulted in the seizure of fishing vessels, and many of these incidents have been accompanied by gunfire. Thailand's concern is directed toward protecting and regulating its own fishing fleet which has been exposed to armed attack and seizure by Kampuchea, Vietnam, Burma, and now Malaysia (McDorman and Tasneeyanond, 1987). The incidents of gunfire almost all involved Thai fishing vessels as targets of Vietnamese and Kampuchean patrol boats. Exclusion of foreign fishing vessels is clearly the policy of Kampuchea; naval units routinely patrol the Kampuchean EEL, and apparently surveillance duties are also assigned to civilian observers. In nearly all cases involving Thai fishing boats, there was no reported protest by the government of Thailand, suggesting that the boats were in fact fishing illegally.

Figure 4.4 South-East Asian Fisheries Areas of Potential International Conflict.

Source: R. P. Wiedenbach (1983), 'Maritime-Jurisdiction and Total Marine Catch', in Morgan and Valencia, eds.. Atlas for Marine Policy in

TABLE 4.4 Rough Approximation of Total Catch and Gross Annual Value in Areas of Overlapping Claims


Area of Overlapsq. km
(sq. nmi)

Present Average
Fishing Intensity
(kg/sq km)

Total Present

Main Species

Total Annual
Gross Value
(US$ million)

Taiwan/Philippines 49 392
36.8 1 818   1.40
Taiwan/Philippines 13 274 4 5 60 Small pelagics, 0.46
(3,870)     skipjack, squid,  
Japan/Philippines 2 058 4.5 9 0.10  
Philippines/China/Talwan/ 240 615 45 5 10 95° Tuna, small pelagics 8.40
Malaysia/lndonesia (70,150)        
Vietnam/lndonesia 38 656 220 8 504   3 00
Kampuchea/Thailand 19 887 > I 000 > 19 887   > 4 4°
Thailand/Vietnam 799 > I 000 > 799 Demersal species, > 0.20
  (233)     small pelagics  
Thailand/Vietnam/Kampuchea 12 382 > I 000 > 12 382   > 2.70
Philippines/lndonesia 14 749 45° 6 637 Tuna, small pelagics 5.10
(4 300)        
Philippines/lndonesia 21 266 450 9 570   7 4°
Malaysia/Philippines 8 301 4.5 37   0 °3
Indonesia/Australia 41 160 1.6 66   0.02
Indonesia/Australia 74 088 1.5 III   0.04
Total 536 627 n.a. 70 830   > 48.

Figure 4.5 South-East Asia: Vessel Seizures.

Source: H. F. Olson and J. R. Morgan (1985), 'Enforcement of Maritime Jurisdiction', in G. Kent and M.J. Valencia, eds., Marine Polity in Southeast Asia, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Figure 4.5 shows the regions where vessel seizures have taken place. The Tenasserim coast of Burma, the Gulf of Thailand, the Gulf of Tonkin, and the Luzon Strait have been the principal areas. Indonesia seized at least 77 foreign fishing vessels between 1974 and 1980 (Olson and Morgan, 1985). Burma has been pursuing an active campaign against foreign fishing vessels within its EEZ, including those that may only be in transit to destinations beyond Burmese waters. The seizure by the Philippines of at least 162 foreign fishing vessels between 1972 and 1980 show that government's determination to enforce its jurisdiction in the EEZ.

The Malaysia/Thai fisheries dispute has disturbed relations between the two countries. Malaysia declared its EEZ and a new Fisheries Act in 1985. Malaysian seizures of Thai fishing boats intensified in mid1986. One incident involved a Malaysian coastal patrol craft firing at a Thai trawler, leaving a crewman dead and another wounded. Some 824 Thai fishermen were arrested in 1986. Thai protesters in Pattani demanded the government despatch navy gunboats for their protection while fishing lobbies in Peninsular Malaysia's east coast states demanded more arrests of Thai fishermen. Malaysia has not only been arresting Thai fishermen caught fishing illegally but has been seizing and confiseating their vessels and equipment as well.

In addition, Malaysia has insisted that passage of Thai fishing vessels through its EEZ is conditional on prior notice. The problem is unlikely to disappear in the long term. The Thai fishing fleet has the sixth largest catch in the world, and a lucrative export industry to developed world markets. To maintain this, it must at least transit Malaysian waters and fish in other countries' waters because it has exhausted its own resources (Sricharatcharya, 1987).

Use of Ocean Space: Straits and Sea-lane Access


The South-East Asian region is a nexus of maritime routes used by the navies of the superpowers and their allies. Strategic straits abound, and with extension of jurisdiction many fall within the territorial or arehipelagic waters of the region's states. Competition between the superpowers for access to these straits will be an integral part of the realpolitik here for the foreseeable future. Figure 4.6 superimposes the major shipping routes through the region over extended maritime jurisdiction zones and highlights critical straits and sea lanes encompassed by the claims of the Philippines and Indonesia. The following straits in the region are strategic because they all serve as entrances to and exits from SouthEast Asian seas and are choke points where naval forces could interfere with enemy shipping with relative ease: Malacca-Singapore, Lombok, Makassar, Taiwan, Luzon (including the Bashi, Balintang, and Babuyan channels), Ombai, Wetar, San Bernardino, Verde Island Passage, and, of lesser importance, Sunda and Torres. The most important and frequently used of the straits is the Malacca-Singapore combination, which funnels traffic from the Indian Ocean into the South China Sea.

Figure 4.6 South-East Asia: Shipping Routes, Maritime Jurisdictional Zones, and Important Areas for Protection and Management.

Source: J. R. V. Prescott (1983), 'Maritime Jurisdictions', H. F. Olson and l. R. Morgan,'Shipping', and A. White, 'Valuable and Vulnerable Resources', all in Morgan and Valencia, eds., Atlas for Marine Policy in Southeast Asian Seas.


The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines the rights of aliens for different activities in different jurisdictional zones. Internal waters are of two types-those inside straight baselines of normal coastal states, and those within closing base-lines of arehipelagic states. 'Innocent passage' is that which is not prejudicial to peace good order, and the security of the coastal state, and it can be suspended if these conditions are violated. A foreign ship is considered to have violated the innocent passage regime of a coastal state if within its territorial sea it engages in any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of the coastal state, or in any other manner violates the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations (UN, 1982: Article 19).

There is no innocent passage regime for normal internal waters unless those waters have been delimited by new methods of drawing straight baselines. There are two types of territorial sea-those territorial waters not used for international navigation, in which the regime of innocent passage is applicable, and those waters used for international passage, where the transit passage regime is applicable. An arehipelagic state may designate sea lanes and air routes suitable for the continuous and expeditious passage of foreign ships and aircraft through or over its arehipelagic waters and the adjacent territorial sea (UN, 1982: Article 53); however, in all other arehipelagic waters, the regime of innocent passage remains applicable. All ships and aircraft enjoy the right of arehipclagic sea lanes passage in such sea lanes and air routes. 'Arehipelagic sea lanes passage' means the exercise of the rights of navigation and overflight in the normal mode. The arehipelagic state is also obligated to promote the adoption of routeing systems designed to minimize the threat of accidents that might cause pollution of the marine environment, including the coastline, and pollution damage to the related interests of coastal states (UN, 1982: Article 211).


The UNCLOS text adopts most of the views promoted by the maritime powers, clarifying the right of innocent passage, codifying the rights of transit passage through international straits and of arehipelagic sea lanes passage, and protecting navigational rights in the EEZ However, the United States has refused to sign or ratify the UNCLOS. Although UNCLOS is specific about navigational rights and rcsponsibilities, several states in the region have practices or positions on navigation that are not covered by or are counter to UNCLOS provisions. For example, there are no provisions in the UNCLOS or other treaties for air defence and military warning zones. Yet Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, and Taiwan have extensive air defence zones. Burma, India, and Vietnam have also established military warning zones 24 nmi wide, and Kampuchea has declared such zones 12 nmi wide. Alien warships and military aircraft are prohibited from these waters; in the Vietnamese zone, other vessels also must secure permission to traverse these waters (Prescott, 1983: 45), and Vietnam also restricts the access of foreign warships in a 24-nmiwide contiguous zone (Dzurek, 1985). China also disputes the right of innocent passage through its 12-nnli territorial sea, and after 1997 it will require permission for foreign warships to cuter I long Kong waters (Far Eastern Econornic Review 4 October 1984).

Although the Philippines and Indonesia have ratified UNCLOS, they assert that non-signatories of UNCLOS like the United States do not have the right of transit passage in straits and sea lane passage in arehipelagos. Meanwhile, the United States does not recognize territorial sea claims of other countries more than 3 nmi from shore and has stated it will challenge such claims with US Navy ships, including specifically the claims of Burma and the Philippines (Wilson, 1979: 17). The United States has repeatedly made good on its threat, most notably in the Gulf of Sidra, which is claimed as a historic Gulf by Libya. Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia claim 12nmi territorial seas, which in some places encompass straits used for international navigation.

The Philippines' territorial sea claim reaches up to 284 nmi in width and includes all its critical straits. Although the Philippines ratified UNCLOS, it did so with reservations (Republic of the Philippines, 1982; Tolentino, 1982; Foz, 1983: I, 14). The Philippines feels that sea lanes denigrate the integrity of the arehipelagic concept and the unity of the nation. However, it has agreed to designate two sea lanes through the heart of the arehipelago-one extending from the Sibutu passage through Mindoro Strait and the other from the Surigao Strait through the Balabac Strait (Figure 4.7). However, the United States wants a third sea lane, particularly for nuclear submarines-San Bernardino Strait through the Verde Island passage. The Philippines does not want the submarines and other warships passing close by Manila. It feels its case is different from that of Indonesia because it borders the Pacific and its straits are internal to the country and less than nmi wide and so could be declared territorial waters.

It is not only the indigenous and maritime powers that face conflict over the use of sea lanes. The declaration of the arehipelagic principle by Indonesia has implications for most of its neighbours. In particular, Peninsular Malaysia is separated from Sarawak and Sabah by Indonesia's baselines enclosing the Natuna Islands. Malaysia and Indonesia have concluded a treaty providing Malaysia with, among others, the right of access and communication for Malaysian ships and aircraft in and over designated sea lanes and traditional fishing rights. However, the treaty provides Indonesia with the right, in the interest of its security, to suspend temporarily the exercise of the right of access by Malaysian ships (Hamzah, 1984).

Environmental Aspects

Environmental degradation and conflicts over diminishing shares of renewable natural resources are now an important cause of violent human conflicts both within and between states (Honolulu Advertiser, 29 November 1984: BI). In South-East Asia, oil is a major pollutant, and the major at-sea source is tankers traversing the region. Eastbound tankers proceeding along the Malacca-Singapore straits-South China Sea route are for the most part loaded with crude petroleum from the Arabian Gulf area bound for East Asia, with some originating in Malaysian west coast ports or Indonesian ports on the north-east coast of Sumatra. South and west-bound traffic either carries refined products or is in ballast.

Figure 4.7 Indonesia and the Philippines: Possible Sea Lanes

The physical restrictions imposed by channel depths of less than 23 m (75 ft) in the straits, and the safety limitation of a 3.5-m under-keel clearance added by the three coastal states. effectively preclude the use of this route by fully laden tankers of more than 200,000 d.w.t. which commonly have a draft of 19 m (62 ft) or more. The alternative route for these Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) is through the deep (150 m) and wide (12.5 nmi minimum) waters of the Lombok and Makassar straits and the Celebes Sea south of Mindanao.

The Malacca-Singapore straits, greatly preferred because of the shorter distance involved, is used by 72 per cent of the eastbound, loaded tankers; the Lombok-Makassar straits by only 28 per cent. At any one time, there would be approximately 51 loaded or returning VLCCs in the region (Olson and Morgan, 1984). This creates a likelihood of 24.5 spills per year averaging 1 000 tonnes each within 50 miles of land and 5.6 spills per year averaging 3 338 tonnes each outside of 50 miles (Hann et al., 1981).

Between 0.35 and 0.50 per cent of a tanker's cargo settles to the bottom of the tank during long sea voyages, and unscrupulous operators discharge this residue into the sea. Approximately 1,000 tons or 300,000 gallons on a single voyage of a 200,000-ton tanker could be discharged into the sea with tank wash water. In South-East Asia this phenomenon results in major concentrations of ballast discharge at each end of the Malacca Strait, in the western Java Sea, west of Madura, off Balikpapan, and off Brunei and Sabah. Also, plumes of tank washings are generated along the two major tanker routes (Figure 4.8).

World-wide between 1978 and 1983, there were 473 reported marine accidents. Of this total, liquefied propane gas (LPG) ships accounted for 224 of the accidents, and specialized tankers accounted for 242 accidents. The accidents involving LPG carriers have been useful in designing better ships, but LNG carriers are still an unknown quantity. Even less is known about nuclear waste carriers, which carry spent nuclear fuel in steel flasks. The major hazard these ships pose is that, in the event of a loss of cooling water, the flasks would heat up and eventually breach the container. If this were to happen in a confined waterway, the ecological results could be catastrophic (Lauriat, 1985).

Figure 4.8 South-East Asia: Ballast and Tank Washings.

Source: R. W. Hann,Jr. et al (1981), 'The Status of Oil Pollution and Oil Pollution Control in the Southeast Asian Region', Texas A&M University, April, p. 182 (Figure 5-25).

Contents - Previous - Next