Diplomacy News

Malawi and Tanzania Spar over Lake Malawi (Nyasa)

International boundaries in oceanic space are often complex and disputed, especially in areas that abound in hydrocarbons. Boundaries that extend across lakes are usually less contentious and convoluted, but that is not always the case. Consider, for example, Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Nyasa) in southern Africa, widely considered to be the world’s eighth largest lake. As can be seen on the map, the central portion of this lake is evenly divided between Malawi and Mozambique, yet Malawi controls two islands that are well within the territorial waters of its neighbor, Chizumulu and Likoma, which together constitute a Malawian exclave district, with a population of some 13,000. As the Wikipedia explains, this situation “came about because the islands were colonised by Anglican missionaries spreading east from Malawi, rather than by the Portuguese who colonised Mozambique.”

The boundaries extending across southern Lake Malawi not particularly contentious, but the same cannot be said for those in the north. As can again be seen on the map, the international community has in general accepted Malawi’s claim to the entire northern portion of the lake, right up to the Tanzanian shore. Tanzania, not surprisingly, objects, claiming that the border should run down the center of the lake, arguing that “most international law supports sharing common bodies of water by bordering nations.” Tanzania regards the Malawian claim as illegitimately rooted in the colonial dispensation.  As again explained by Wikipedia, “The foundations of this dispute were laid when the British colonial government, which had recently captured Tanganyika from Germany, placed all of the water under the jurisdiction of the territory of Nyasaland [which later became Malawi], without a separate administration for the Tanganyikan portion of the surface.”

This territorial dispute between the two countries has long simmered, but it has recently intensified due to the decision by the Malawian government to award an oil- and gas-exploration contract in the lake to the British company Surestream Petroleum. Then company is currently undertaking environmental impact assessments. The Tanzanian government has demanded a halt to all activities until the dispute is settled. Talks are currently underway, but tensions remain high.  Earlier today, according to the Nyasa Times, Malawian police “arrested two freelance journalists who went to cover the ongoing diplomatic border talks between Malawi and Tanzania at the Mzuzu Hotel accusing them of publishing false news.”

 

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Taiwanese Initiatives in The Gambia and Burkina Faso

Recent African news reports often focus on investments and diplomatic initiatives undertaken by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Yet when one scans the news from The Gambia, the PRC figures little, whereas the Republic of China (Taiwan) looms large. Recent stories in the Gambian press have focused on Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs awarding scholarship packages to 27 Gambian college students to study on the island country, the initiation of a four-year project aimed to triple Gambian rice production, and the donation of funds to Gambian orphanages by the Taiwanese shipping firm Pacific Concord International Limited.

As can be gathered from these stories, Taiwanese activities in The Gambia focus more on humanitarian concerns than on economic investments. Taiwan is eager to offer such assistance in order to maintain its diplomatic standing in the world; The Gambia is one of only four African countries (along with São Tomé and Príncipe, Burkina Faso, and Swaziland) to officially recognize the Republic of China rather than the People’s Republic of China. (Six countries in Oceania and twelve in Latin America and the Caribbean also recognize Taiwan).

Retaining such diplomatic recognition is extremely important to Taiwan. In April 2012, Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou undertook a twelve-day tour of three Taiwanese allies in Africa, visiting The Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Swaziland. In Burkina Faso, as reported by the Taipei Times, “Ma was greeted by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore at the airport, where he was welcomed with full military honors, complete with a 21-gun salute.” The article further noted that Taiwan would “provide more assistance to Burkina Faso in the areas of education, medical care, transportation and agriculture.” One of Taiwan’s largest initiatives in Burkina Faso, “A Lamp Lighting up Africa,” provides solar-powered LED lamps for students in the impoverished country.

 

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The Australian Asylum Controversy Extends to Indonesia

The on-going Australian asylum-seeking controversy has recently spread to the Indonesian island of Java. On August 20, the Jakarta Post announced the arrest of “28 illegal immigrants hiding in a forested coastal area of South Cianjur, West Java. The immigrants were part of a large group of asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran who were heading to Christmas Island.” The report went on to note that a total 61 asylum seekers have been detained, and that a number of others are still being sought. The Australian government had previously reached an agreement with Indonesia that would allow its navy to turn boats with asylum seekers back to Indonesian waters, but it has announced that it will not pursue that option.

Christmas Island is a small (135 km2; 52 sq mi) Australian territory located much closer to Java than to the Australian mainland.  Asylum seekers bound for Australia are held in detention centers on the island for processing. Because many detainees are eventually given visas and allowed into the country, boats carrying refugees often head for the island. Detainees on the island now number almost 1,700, as opposed to 1,400 permanent residents. Overcrowding is resulting in serious shortages of milk, fuel, and other goods on the island.

To cope with the record number of new arrivals, the Australian government has ordered the reopening of the detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea that had been employed by the previous, much more conservative, government. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the Labor Party is now taking a hard line herself, threatening “indefinite detention for boat arrivals”—a maneuver much opposed by the Green Party. According to a recent report, the Australian intelligence service has discovered that “people smugglers have been overheard telling clients that even if they are sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, they will eventually get to Australia if they are patient enough,” informing their customers that that “Nauru is ‘just another Christmas Island.’”

Australian law courts, meanwhile, are handling dozens of suits brought forth by former detainees on Nauru, many of who claim to have been suffered physical abuse along with “forced solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for as many as four weeks.” Over the past year, the government awarded former detainees with several million dollars in compensation funds.

 

 

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TAPI and Turkmenistan’s Natural Gas

While known mostly for its isolation and repressive government, Turkmenistan has some of the largest natural gas reserves in the world. In hopes of increasing gas exports, the country will start promoting its TAPI pipeline project at international shows in London, Singapore, and New York. The pipeline will deliver gas via Afghanistan to Pakistan and India—the first letters of their names are the project’s initials—and will reduce Turkmenistan’s dependency on exports to Iran and Russia, which currently buy much of its gas. The project, in the works for over a decade, was put on hold when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and the potential for greater instability after America’s military exit has cast doubts over construction plans for the pipeline. Nevertheless, Turkmenistan plans to start supplying gas to Pakistan and India by 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Though the former Soviet republic remains diplomatically aloof, it gladly cooperates with foreign governments and companies to export its gas. Besides courting India and Pakistan, which would receive 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas from TAPI yearly, it has also attracted interest from Bangladesh. The European Union is considering Turkmen energy imports as well because it hopes to reduce dependency on Russia, which has occasionally withheld gas during disputes with Ukraine over pipeline ownership. The proposed Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline would bypass Ukraine and Russia, bringing Europe gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Turkmenistan already exports gas to China via the Central Asia-China pipeline and may more than double deliveries to 65 bcm to meet its trading partner’s growing energy demands.

For all its economic potential, Turkmenistan continues to have major political problems. The previous president not only aggressively quashed political opposition but also created an extravagant personality cult. Having adopted the title Türkmenbaşy (“leader of all Turkmen”), President Saparmurat Niyazov erected large golden effigies of himself across the country and promoted his autobiography Ruhnama as the nation’s spiritual guide. The current president, who is one of the pipeline’s greatest proponents, may be trying to create a personality cult of his own.

Though the United States has openly objected to the country’s human rights abuses and lack of democratic institutions, it has also shown interest in developing Turkmenistan’s natural resources and supporting the TAPI pipeline project. America’s government is concerned that Pakistan will satisfy its energy needs with natural gas from Iran, which has begun construction on its own pipeline to Pakistan and India, if the TAPI project is further delayed. As the United States has had decades-long diplomatic tensions with Iran, it finds Turkmenistan a preferable alternative energy source for Pakistan.

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China Courts the Portuguese-Speaking World

Representatives from China and seven Portuguese-speaking countries—Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and East Timor—recently met in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia (in China), to discuss trade and investment opportunities. The meeting took place under the auspices of the so-called Macau Forum (officially designated as the “Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries”), which has been meeting since 2003. The organization is widely regarded as a Chinese diplomatic success that has paid substantial economic dividends. According to a recent article in East Asia Forum:

In 2003–06, trade between China and the Lusophone countries more than tripled, growing from US$10 billion to US$34 billion, and in 2011, it reached an impressive US$117 billion. In 2009, Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest economy, became China’s largest trading partner in the southern hemisphere, with bilateral trade reaching US$42 billion.

The connection between China and the Portuguese-speaking (Lusophone) world is enhanced by the fact that China is itself, to a very small extent, a Lusophone county. Macau, a Portuguese colony until 1999, is now a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China; although it has its own laws, political system, and currency, it is nonetheless fully under Chinese sovereignty. Although less than one percent of the half-million residents of gambling-focused Macao speak Portuguese at home, the language has official status in the SAR, along with Mandarin Chinese. Portuguese cultural connections, moreover, are carefully maintained. Macau’s Chief Executive, Chui Sai On, recently stated that the territory has “vast potential for cooperation that need[s] to be explored with Portugal,” noting as well that “Portuguese characteristics contributed to Macau’s development of its role as a trade and services platform between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries.”

Chinese investments in Lusophone Africa have mostly targeted oil-rich Angola. One large project is the $1.5 billion Benguela Railway, financed and engineered by a Chinese firm and largely built by Chinese labor. More problematic is Nova Cidade de Kilamba, a massive residential and business development located near the capital city of Luanda. According to a recent Business Insider report, “The $3.5 billion development covers 12,355 acres and was built to house about 500,000 people, and this is one of several satellite cities being constructed by Chinese firms around Angola.” The same story, however, claims that the new city is a virtual ghost town, as few Angolans can afford to live there. Such under-utilized instant cities are relatively common in China, and are often noted by those who think that the Chinese economy is headed for trouble.

Chinese investments in Mozambique are also rapidly rising.  Iron ore and other minerals are the focus of most attention, but infrastructural projects are also entailed. China’s Exim Bank, for example, recently extended a $682-million loan to Mozambique build a suspension bridge in the capital. Portugal had been expected to play this role, but was forced to pull out due to the European debt crisis.

 

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Growing Tensions over the Paracel Islands

Mounting tension in the South China Sea has been amply documented in the mainstream media. However, reporting often does not adequately cover the situation’s geographical complexity, as the geopolitical tussles work out differently for the Sea’s various archipelagos, isolated islands, and reefs. Whereas all or parts of the Spratly Island are claimed by seven different countries, the Paracels are claimed by only China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The Paracel dispute, like those elsewhere in the South China Sea, has recently intensified. In late June, Vietnam restated its claim to sovereignty over the islands. China soon responded with the establishment of a prefectural level city that is meant to govern the Paracels along with the Spratlys and Macclesfield Bank.

The Paracel Islands have few natural resources, but sovereignty brings a large Exclusive Economic Zone with fisheries and potential oil and natural gas reserves. Vietnam and China both stake their claims on historical grounds. But as the archipelago has always had few or no inhabitants, determining past control is difficult. French Indochina took possession of the islands in 1932, and ownership passed onto South Vietnam after decolonization. As the Saigon regime approached collapse in 1974, China seized the islands, ousting Vietnam’s military garrison and establishing its own.

Competition over potential hydrocarbon deposits heightens diplomatic tensions. The state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation recently announced that it would take bids to explore contested waters near Vietnam. In turn, Vietnam soon extended contracts to India to look for submarine gas in areas claimed by China. Though Indian efforts so far have been unsuccessful, Vietnam probably sees a lengthened contract as a diplomatic tool against China.

The two country’s recent actions in the South China Sea are most likely aimed at gaining domestic support for their respective governments. Beijing seeks to enhance government popularity during the transition process between President Hu Jintao and his successor. The growing ruckus over the Paracel Islands also reflects recent trends in the South China Sea as a whole. Since April, China and the Philippines have wrangled over Scarborough Shoal, without any sign of resolution.

Disputes over the islands of the South China Sea have historically fluctuated between violent confrontation, as seen in China’s seizure of the Paracel Islands, and glimmers of reconciliation, as seen in the Bali East Asia Summit last year. As suggested by one recent report, such fluctuations owe in part to China’s lack of a regular policy toward the South China Sea across all levels of government. Though China’s civilian authorities are sometimes conciliatory, its military leaders are often more bellicose. The growing presence of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region may help prevent China from militarily asserting its South China Sea claims, but tensions between China, Vietnam, and the other disputing countries may increase in the short term.

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Russian Military Bases and Other Geopolitical Maneuverings in Tajikistan

After much wrangling, Tajikistan and Russia recently agreed to a 49-year extension of Russia’s military base in the strategically situated Central Asian country. The roughly 6,000 Russian troops stationed in the country, constituting Moscow’s largest foreign deployment, will thus remain in place. As Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin framed the issue, “The forces of NATO in Afghanistan are not eternal but Russia will be an eternal partner of these countries and if, God forbid, the situation deteriorates for security and the people of the countries, they will remember Russia.” Tajikistan recently rebuffed efforts by the United States to negotiate for military bases of its own; the U.S. is scheduled to withdraw from its Manas Transit Center in neighboring Kyrgyzstan in 2014, and is keen to maintain military logistical facilities near embattled Afghanistan.

Although the U.S. was turned down, India has been allowed to upgrade its own military facility in Tajikistan, Farkhor Air Base, located adjacent to the Afghan border. India’s strategic relations with Tajikistan are apparently deepening; in early July, as noted in eurasiareview, “Indian External Affairs Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna flew … to Tajikistan for a two days visit planned to discuss bilateral issues such as trade, energy and counter-terrorism.” Although most analysts frame India’s efforts in Tajikistan in the context of Afghanistan, others claim that New Delhi is actually seeking to “encircle China.” Not surprisingly, China is also courting Tajikistan. According to a recent Daily Times (of Pakistan) article:

Beijing [is] to extend $1 billion to Dushanbe in grants and credits. Some $600 million dollars alone would go towards building a cement factory in the south of Tajikistan. “Relations with China have the position of priority in Tajikistan’s foreign policy,” [Tajik President Emomali] Rakhmon told Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Tajikistan is also reaching out to other nearby countries on issues of economic and strategic cooperation. Azerbaijan recently announced that it would invest in oil-refining facilities in the country, and the Tajik government is currently negotiating with Kyrgyzstan to build a “rail link connecting Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China.”

Tajikistan is the poorest of the former Soviet countries, and it relies heavily on remittances from migrant workers in Russia. It is also known for its harsh and often repressive internal policies. Amnesty International recently condemned the “routine use of torture and beatings at detention facilities in the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan,” which are said to entail “electric shocks, boiling water, suffocation, beatings, burning with cigarettes, rape and threats of rape.” Tajikistan has also stepped up its restrictions on information access, seeking to create “a volunteer-run body to monitor Internet usage and reprimand those who openly criticize President Emomali Rakhmon.” On the other hand, the Dushanbe government does claim that it will loosen its strict anti-libel laws, which have been widely used to repress journalism.

On the lighter side, the international athletic community was recently surprised by Tajikistan’s announcement that it would be sending a female boxer to compete at the London Olympics. Reportedly, Mavzuna Choriyeva, age 19, is “on a mission not only to win but to smash gender stereotypes in the religiously conservative ex-Soviet state.”

 

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Indonesia’s New Defense Deals

Indonesia, a relatively poor, highly populated country that is diplomatically independent and active, has recently agreed to several new joint military efforts with the United States, Australia, and China. On a visit to Darwin, Australia, the Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono concluded a defense agreement with Australia and stated his desire for military cooperation between his country and the United States, among other powers.Not long before that conference, Indonesia had performed joint anti-terror military exercises with China, whose greatly expanding armed forces and growing international clout have caused tensions with the United States.

While Indonesia has historically been wary of foreign powers, it has also had difficulty coping alone with natural disasters and ethnic and religious insurgencies. At the same time, securing the favor and strategic cooperation of Southeast Asian countries has become an important American foreign policy goal in the increasingly influential Asia-Pacific region. Indonesia criticized the creation of new American military bases in Darwin as risking greater tension between the United States and China. However, the country also participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) joint military exercises this summer, as it has in previous years, and is proposing to cooperate with America and other countries to carry out disaster relief military exercises.

Indonesia will also soon conclude new defense agreements with Australia, including the heavily subsidized sale of several military planes and a commitment to cooperate on disaster relief and other peacetime military endeavors. Australia regards stable relations with Indonesia as a chief security priority but has had difficulty obtaining them. Over the past several decades, Australian militaryrelations forces have intervened in nearby countries, including in East Timor, where they fought against pro-Indonesian militias. In recent years, Australia has sought better relations, increasing aid to its Southeast Asian neighbor and creating new student exchange programs. According to the Australian government, “The relationship between Australia and Indonesia has never been stronger.”

Although Indonesia has cooperated with the United States and Australia, it has also recently performed military exercises with China, which has chafed at America’s new strategic interests in East and Southeast Asia. China has both criticized American-led multilateral war game events such as RIMPAC and accused the United States of attempting to prevent its rise. However, China has engaged in similar joint military activities. Special Forces of China’s People’s Liberation Army, for example, recently undertook anti-terror exercises with their counterparts from the Indonesian National Armed Forces.

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Dam-Building in Ethiopia & Water Worries in Egypt

Representatives from Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan recently met in Khartoum to discuss Ethiopia’s controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, currently under construction on the Blue Nile River. The governments of Sudan and especially Egypt are concerned that the dam will reduce the flow of water into their countries. In response, both states have threatened to suspend their activities in the Nile Basin Initiative, a co-operative framework for sustainably managing the flow of the Nile that currently involves Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and the DR Congo. To avoid such a scenario, future meetings are planned. As outlined in Egypt’s Daily News, “The meeting between technical experts from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, all eastern Nile countries, also discussed future development and water sharing challenges in advance of a meeting in July in Kigali, Rwanda with a more complex agenda.”

When completed, perhaps in 2014, the massive dam will be the largest hydroelectricity producer in Africa and the seventh largest in the world. Ethiopia is planning to fund the entire project by itself, although it will receive financing from Chinese banks and has designated the Italian firm Salini Costruttori as the main contractor. Ethiopia is hoping to export much of the power produced by this and other new dams, mostly to Sudan but also potentially to Egypt. Before this can occur, major transmission lines will have to be constructed. In early June, South Korea “approved Ethiopia a soft loan amounting $80 million to support part of the Ethiopia-Sudan electric power transmission line construction and expansion project.”

 

Egypt’s concerns largely focus on the loss of water from evaporation over the massive reservoir that the dam will create. It is unclear how large the losses will be, but the Blue Nile is clearly vital to Egypt, providing an estimated 59 percent of the country’s total water supply. Egypt is ultimately worried that further dam-building on the Nile and its tributaries could lead to new irrigation projects in the lowlands of Ethiopia and adjacent areas of Sudan that would severely reduce the flow of the Nile—the life-blood of the country. Yet Egypt will also reap some benefits from up-stream dams; by trapping sediment, the new reservoirs will prolong the life of Egypt’s vital Aswan High Dam. Potential electricity imports from Ethiopia could also bolster the Egyptian economy.

 

 

The allocation of the Nile’s water has been a heated topic for many decades, as spelled out in John Waterbury’s 1979 book, Hydropolitics of the Nile Valley (Contemporary Issues in the Middle East). Because virtually all of Egypt’s water comes from the river, the country is extremely vulnerable to water diversions or losses in the upstream countries. As a result, Egypt has also been keen to support any projects that would enhance the flow of the Nile. The main proposal here is the Jonglei Canal, a gargantuan engineering project that would shunt water away from the expansive Sudd wetlands of southern Sudan, thereby reducing evaporation and augmenting the river’s flow by five to seven percent. Construction work on the canal began in 1978, but was halted in 1983 due to the insurgency in southern Sudan. In 2008, Egypt and Sudan agreed to resume work, but the subsequent independence of South Sudan changed the political environment. The Southern Sudanese have long been bitterly opposed to the project, which would undermine local subsistence activities and wreak havoc on the Sudd ecosystem. In 2011, however, Sudanese papers, along with The Independent Catholic News, suggested that South Sudan was willing to resume work on the project.

 

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Transnistria Open to Freight Traffic

In early May, the European Union welcomed the resumption of railroad freight traffic through the break-away state of Transnistria*, sandwiched between Ukraine and Moldova. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, described the event as “a crucial step forward for restoring confidence between the sides to the Transnistrian issue.” Freight traffic across the region had been suspended for the past six years, owing largely to the unsettled dispute between Transnistria and Moldova; Moldova claims the entire territory of the unrecognized state, and most of the international community backs the Moldovan position. Seemingly endless negotiations, however, have finally brought some progress. Recently, the two sides:

[A]nnounced they had reached common ground on other issues that will be soon translated into life, such as building cooperation on healthcare between the two banks of Nistru River in order to deliver quality health services, resumption of the phone connection between the two banks of the river, suspended a couple of years ago, resumption of road traffic on the bridge in Gura Bicului; simplification of transit of Transnistria in summer ; arrangements for 100 children on the right bank of the Nistru River to spend the summer holidays in camps.
The experts named in charge of these areas are expected to identify real solutions in the near future.

Transnistria is widely regarded as a Russian client state that is a center of human trafficking, the arms trade, and drug transshipments. Its international diplomatic standing is highly limited. As the Wikipedia article on the “Foreign relations of Transnistria” reads in its entirely:

The Transnistrian republic is currently recognized by three states with limited recognition [South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh], and is member of one international organization, the Community for Democracy and Human Rights, that was established by these four states. Russia maintains a consulate in Transnistria, but hasn’t recognized it as independent state. During a visit to Kiev, President Dmitri Medvedev said he supported “special status” for Transnistria and recognised the “important and stabilising” role of the Russian army.

On the cultural front, Armenia recently announced that it would “build a church in honor of great Armenian Enlightener Gregory Illuminator in Grigoriopol, Transnistria.” Armenians settled extensively in the Romanian-Moldovan-Transnistrian area in earlier centuries, and Grigoriopol was founded by Armenian immigrants in 1792. In recent years, the city has seen been the focus of Russian-Moldovan tensions. Although Transnistria as a whole has a clear Russian-Ukrainian majority, Moldovans constitute the largest community in Grigoriopol. As the Wikipedia article on the town explains:

[L]ocal Moldavian inhabitants [wanted] to use Romanian language and Latin script in the local Moldavian school, which is against the policy of the government of Transnistria. The Transnistrian press attacked the local authorities “that allowed the fifth column of Moldova in Transnistria to operate.

* Officially, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic

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Spanish-Argentinean Fishing Disputes

Tensions between Spain and Argentina have recently mounted. Last fall, Spain began to complain that its fishing fleets operating around the Falkland/Malvinas islands were being harassed by the Argentine Navy, despite having licenses from the Falkland Islands government—a government that Argentina does not recognize. More recently, Argentina nationalized the oil company YPF, a subsidiary of the Spanish company Repsol, angering both Spanish investors and European Union officials, and provoking reprisals. Spanish fishing interests are now concerned about the fall-out from this most recent dispute. The EU has decided to cancel tariff preferences for Argentinean products in retaliation, but most of the fish exported from Argentina derive from joint Spanish-Argentine ventures. As noted in a recent FIS article:

Last year, Argentina sent fishery products for about EUR 1,500 million to the EU. Sixty per cent of that total — more than EUR 800 million — came from sales performed by Spanish groups operating in the South American country…. Currently, more than one hundred factory ships, owned by Spanish companies, operate in Patagonian ports. These firms employ about 250 Spanish people and a higher number of Argentinean crew members.

Fishing is a huge business, and major cultural concern, in Spain. In 2007, Spain was the world’s third largest fish importer, after Japan and the United States, and the seventh largest exporter.

The Spanish fishing industry is centered in Galicia, in the northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula. Galicia’s Port of Vigo (shown in the photograph posted here) is not only the largest fishing center of Spain, but is the largest fishing port in the world. It is also home to the world’s biggest fishing company, Pescanova, with revenue of 1.5 billion Euros in 2009. Fleets from Vigo operate extensively in the coastal sections of Namibia, Mozambique, Chile, and Peru, in addition to those of Argentina.

Spain is currently an economically stressed country, and Galicia has long been one of its poorer regions. Vigo, however, unlike Galicia’s interior hinterlands, is still relatively prosperous. Any threats to its all-important fishing industry will be taken quite seriously.

 

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U.S. Marine Contingent to Leave Okinawa

Japanese newspapers are reporting that the United States will be moving roughly 8,000 marines off of the island of Okinawa, reassigning them to Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Hawaii, and Northern Australia.  The massive U.S. military presence on Okinawa—with fourteen bases covering eighteen percent of the island—has long been a highly controversial matter. Relocating the marines will be an expensive proposition, but much of the bill will be paid by Japan. According to a recent report in the Daily Yomiuri, Japan may contribute as much as $3.1 billion. Some of the funds will “cover part of the costs for the development of a U.S. base and related facilities in Tinian, part of the Northern Mariana Islands and a self-governing territory of the United States.” The report also added “the two countries are considering conducting joint training between U.S. troops and the [Japanese] Self-Defense Forces on the island [of Tinian].”

In related news, the Daily Yomiuri is also reporting that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is negotiating to buy three of the Senkaku Islands, hotly disputed among Japan, China, and Taiwan, from a private Japanese citizen. In announcing the plan, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara harshly criticized the government of Japan:

The central government is too scared to do anything. …. The Tokyo metropolitan government will protect the Senkaku Islands. How can anyone complain about the Japanese buying the islands to protect the nation’s territory, regardless of which country opposes such a move?

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Complex Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea

The headline of an April 15 article in the Washington Post might strike many readers as slightly absurd: “Philippine president says his country won’t start war with China over disputed shoal.” Although the Philippines is hardly in a position to challenge China militarily, the remarks of President Benigno Aquino III did help the country save face as it pulled a warship out of the disputed waters and allowed several Chinese fishing vessels to return home with their catch. On April 16, the United States and the Philippines began joint military exercises, a move that officials insist has no connection with the China-Philippine dispute.

The disputed territory in question is Scarborough Shoal (called Huangyan Island in China and Panatag Shoal in the Philippines.) It is situated well to the northeast of the better-known Spratly Islands, which are often considered to entail the world’s most complex territorial contest, with multiple overlapping claims. Despite the fact that Scarborough is labeled as a mere shoal or reef, it actually contains a significant amount of dry land, estimated at 50 square kilometers (58 sq mi). It is, however, highly rocky and of little use. The local seas, however, are rich marine resources, and a successful territorial bid would give the controlling country power over an expansive maritime domain.

The dispute in the Spratly Islands is intensified by the possibility of substantial oil and natural gas deposits in the area. The most interesting recent maneuver in this contest occurred in March 2012, when Vietnam sent six Buddhist monks to re-establish an abandoned temple that the country had briefly maintained in the 1970s on one of the islands. The presence of the monks will supposedly help Vietnam establish its territorial claims in the region. One of the monks claimed that he would “pray for ‘anyone of the Vietnamese race’ lost at sea in defence of Vietnam’s claim to the archipelago.’”

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The Colombian-Venezuelan Energy-Led Diplomatic Thaw

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela have been so tense over the past decade that it sometimes seemed that the two countries were at the verge of war. Such tensions, however, have recently diminished to the point where the neighboring states are now discussing building a pipeline to transport Venezuelan crude oil to Colombian ports, a project enthusiastically backed by China. Just this week, moreover, the Colombia company Ecopetrol, the country’s largest oil and natural gas firm, announced that it would soon be drilling for oil in Venezuelan territory.

The improvement in Colombian-Venezuelan relations is often linked to the election of Juan Manuel Santos to the presidency of Columbia in 2010, as he is considered to be more accommodating to Venezuelan interest than his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. But it is also true that the fossil fuel industries of the two countries, as well as their economies more generally, can profit through increased cooperation. Colombia’s economy is currently booming, having grown by 5.9% in 2011, due in part to the expanding oil and natural gas sectors. But Colombia’s fossil fuel deposits are limited, and Venezuela’s vast reserves beckon. Venezuela’s oil and gas economy, meanwhile, has been held back by the politicization of the industry, and investment by foreign firms is needed.

Other complementarities further link the energy sectors of the two countries. For example, the Trans-Caribbean gas pipeline, inaugurated in 2007, takes natural gas from Colombia’s Guajira Basin to Venezuela’s Maracaibo oilfields. Gas is then injected into the semi-depleted oil reservoirs in order to boost production. The Colombian oil and gas industry, moreover, has been held back by periodic attacks on pipelines by leftist rebels, who have allegedly received support from Venezuela in the past. Improved diplomatic relations between the two countries could also be helpful on this score.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stalled Negotiations in Western Sahara

Yet again, talks on Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara collapsed without agreement. Representatives from Morocco, the independence-seeking Polisario Front, Algeria, and Mauritania recently met for three days in a suburb of New York; in the end, “‘Each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as the sole basis for future negotiations, while reiterating their willingness to work together to reach a solution.” Representatives from same groups will convene again in Europe in June. As the conflict has essentially been stalled since the Moroccan annexation of the former Spanish colony in 1975, little is expected.

The Western Sahara conflict generates diplomatic complications for the United States. Although the U.S. seeks good relations with Morocco, it is concerned about Western Sahara. A pending Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act (S.1601), would have the U.S. withhold some scheduled military assistance for Morocco until the Secretary of State “submits a report on steps taken by the government of Morocco to respect the rights of individuals to peacefully express their opinions regarding the status and future of the Western Sahara, and to provide unimpeded access to human-rights organizations, journalists and representatives of foreign governments to the Western Sahara.” The Moroccan foreign minister Saad Eddine Othmani reportedly views the bill as “an unfair judgment about his country — and a simplistic approach to a highly complicated issue.” GovTrack.us, however, claims that this complex bill has only an eight percent chance of being signed into law.

Meanwhile, NGOs and humans rights organizations have criticized the recent decision of the German company Siemens to build and maintain a number of electricity-producing windmills in Western Sahara. The wind farm is scheduled to become commercially operational in the summer of 2013. According to a March 21 article in Newstime Africa, “The problem is that, according to international law, it is illegal to trade or dispose of resources in occupied Western Sahara without the consent of Western Sahara’s indigenous population, the Saharawis, who also have to benefit from any such dealings.”

Kidnappings have recently turned up the pressure in Western Sahara. Two Spanish and one Italian aid workers were recently kidnapped in Tindouf, the Algerian refugee camp that also serves as the seat of the government-in-exile of the dispossessed Saharawi people.  The abduction was evidently carried out by an al-Qaeda splinter group that calls itself the “Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa,” which is demanding $37 million (30 million Euros) to free the three aid workers.

 

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