Joint Ventures in Seabed Extractions in Disputed Water – Cases from East Asia

The often nonspecific International Laws of the Sea sometimes clash with the traditions of history and the goals and ambitions of existing countries. They clash in ways that result in regions of water which have multiple disputed claims of rights and ownership, particularly in countries around East Asia. As Dr. Yoichiro Sato conveyed, the conflicts of interests and power in that area of the world are fascinating, multi-faceted affairs. According to the international Law of the Sea, each country is allowed twelve nautical miles of territorial water which is to be split in the event of an overlap. Coastal states are each allowed an exclusive economic zone of two hundred nautical miles, and coastal countries are each allowed a natural prolongation of up to three hundred fifty miles of extended continental shelf.

Dr. Sato named the Japan–South Korea Joint Development Zone as one of the disputed areas. The disputes are largely based on overlapping and contradicting history and tradition between the two countries and cultures. These disputes create a great need for compromise and viable solutions between the two countries, particularly because these disagreements can delay productivity and profit for all parties involved. Other disputes arise from military and defense needs, particularly the need to build up and maintain a submarine force.
Dr. Sato then moved on to discussing the delimitation of territorial sea between states. The deadlines for states and countries to submit their claims was in 2009. This caused some countries to jump start adjusting and making their “disputed claims” more explicit, causing some tension. The conflict between the claims of China and the Philippines has made it difficult to get pipes or other lines across the boundaries without permission.

In many areas, Dr. Sato said that China seems to be forcing itself into joint ventures with the Philippines and Vietnam to get a share of the profits it could not get otherwise, often without doing the work of setting up any of the infrastructure of the initial venture. The cost of transporting oil and gas is prohibitive to China and hence Dr. Sato said that he believes China’s main goal is to let others start developments that will produce such fuel and then jump on the labor to reap some of the profits. There may also be some motivation to make sure that China’s own legal claim is not undermined by any nearby countries. Dr. Sato claimed that joint ventures in disputed water are normally driven by the need for capital, a technological gain from foreign partners, and the ability to alter profit calculations. Other reasons include the desire for added protection against threats and to strengthen one’s own legal claims or undermine those of other entities. Thus, it does not seem that the disputes over questionable water territory will be going away anytime soon.

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