A Glimpse of our Geopolitical Future -- The East and South China Seas

Geopolitical conflicts have obvious effects on the world's supply of oil & natural gas. Mostly, such conflicts are discussed in the context of the Middle East, Russia as a supplier or West Africa. However, there is an underpublicized set of conflicts in the maritime areas of East Asia over who owns the development rights to disputed oil & natural gas rights in those offshore areas. The hottest of these conflicts is between China and Japan over drilling rights in the East China Sea (Asian Times) and among various nations adjacent to the South China Sea. And there are other disputes as well. Whether these rights of ownership are resolved amicably or through intimidation and military conflict will affect how various nations fare in obtaining their fossil fuels supplies in the future and hence their security. Let's take a closer look at geopolitical disputes in East Asia's ocean regions.
[Editor's Note 3/15/2006]:   I made an inadvertent error regarding US annual natural gas consumption that Westexas pointed out to me. It is now corrected in the text below. US consumption of natural gas is now about 23 trillion cubic feet (Tcf)/year. The disputed reserves in the East China Sea comprise about 1/3rd of that yearly estimate of US consumption. This should give you some clue about the importance of conflicts over the resources in question which are paltry compared to the big natural gas reserve holders like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, the UAE, etc. That these relatively small fossil fuels resources should be at the center of volatile geopolitical and historically based political disputes in East Asia gives us a realistic perspective on what the world faces in the current crisis and that is the whole point of this post.

To understand what's going on in the China & Japan dispute, we need to be acquainted with the Law of the Sea and what are called exclusive economic zones.

In international maritime law, an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a seazone over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources. Generally a state's EEZ extends to a distance of 200 nautical miles (370 km) out from its coast, except where resulting points would be closer to another country. Technically it does not include the state's territorial waters, so the EEZ's inner boundary follows the borders of the state's territorial waters (usually 12 nautical miles from the coast).

This concept of allotting nations EEZs to give better control of maritime affairs outside territorial limits gained acceptance in the late 20th century and was given binding international recognition by the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982. Part V, Article 55 of the Convention states:

Specific legal regime of the Exclusive Economic Zone

The Exclusive Economic Zone is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, subject to the specific legal regime established in this Part, under which the rights and jurisdiction of the coastal State and the rights and freedoms of other States are governed by the relevant provisions of this Convention.

Fisheries management is a significant aspect of the resulting control.

Unfortunately, it's even more complicated than that. Perhaps some of you are familiar with Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf which
Established a general regime for the continental shelf, defined in Article 1 as (a) the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas adjacent to the coast but outside the area of the territorial sea, to a depth of 200 metres or, beyond that limit, to where the depth of the superjacent waters admits of the exploitation of the natural resources of the said areas; or (b) the seabed and subsoil of similar submarine areas adjacent to the coasts of islands. Includes measures for the exploitation of the natural resources of the continental shelf, including sedentary species.
OK, now that we know the pertinent international laws that apply, we can talk about the actual dispute. In The Geopolitics of Natural Gas, Michael Klare of The Nation magazine briefly describes the conflict.
A dispute between China and Japan over the ownership of an undersea gas field in an area of the East China Sea claimed by both countries has grown increasingly inflammatory, with China sending warships into the area and Japan threatening "bold action" if the Chinese begin pumping gas from the field. The conflict has soured relations between Beijing and Tokyo and provoked a strong nationalistic response from the populations of both countries. The huge anti-Japanese demonstrations in Shanghai and other Chinese cities last April were prompted, in part, by Tokyo's announcement that it would permit drilling in the area by Japanese firms. A peaceful resolution of the dispute does not appear imminent.
And this gives us an opporunity to display this beautiful map of the East China Sea from The Economist, Oil and gas in troubled waters.

The disputed area in the East China Sea
Figure 1

From the Asian Times (link cited above the fold), we learn that "Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which both Japan and China are signatories, coastal countries can claim an economic zone extending up to 370 kilometers [about 200 miles at its widest point] from their shorelines, which Japan relies on in its argument over the gas field. But China bases its exploration claim on another international treaty, the 1958 Geneva Convention of the Continental Shelf, that allows coastal countries to extend their borders to the edges of their undersea continental shelves." The disputed natural gas reserves straddle both the Chinese and Japanese claims under two different international covenants! Originally, these agreements were meant primarily to cover fisheries rights but now that we've almost reached Peak Fish and are fast approaching Peak Oil, things have changed--sorry, I'm trying to find the humor in this situation. In fact, from the Economist

Japan says the boundary should be the median line between the two countries. China says its EEZ should extend to the edge of its continental shelf, which would put the line almost up against Japan's shores. The convention does not give specifics of how overlapping EEZ and continental shelf claims should be resolved.
What's being disputed here? There are three natural gas fields out there in the overlapping area but naturally the two countries have different names for them. Here's a brief guide for the perplexed.
  • Chunxiao (China) = Shirakaba (Japan)
  • Duanqiao (China) = Kusunoki (Japan)
  • Tianwaitian (China) = Kashi (Japan)
And from the Asian Times, geologically speaking...
The Chunxiao/Shirakaba and Duanqiao/Kusunoki fields have been confirmed to be connected at the subterranean level to a gas field that lies within what Japan says is its EEZ. The Tianwaitian/Kashi gas field is also suspected to be directly connected to deposits on the Japanese side.
What's at stake out there? Estimated reserves are 200 billion cubic metres (Bcm) which is approximately 7.063 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas, a relatively large number. This is a couple trillion cubic feet shy of 1/3 of one year's natural gas consumption in the US.

Before we get into the gory details, let's review a little 20th century history. In 1931, the Japanese invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet state Manchukuo. The Japanese occupation of this part of China lasted until the end of World War II when Chinese sovereignty was at last reasserted. And who among us can forget the Rape of Nanking?

Following the Battle at Marco Polo Bridge, which formally started the Sino-Japanese War [1937 to 1945], the Japanese were swift in capturing major Chinese cities in the northeast....

After losing the Battle of Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek knew the fall of Nanking would be simply a matter of time. Leaving General Tang Shengzhi in charge of the city for the Battle of Nanking, Chiang and many of his advisors flew to Chongqing, which became China's capital for the next seven years. On November 11, 1937, after securing control of Shanghai, the Japanese army advanced towards Nanking from different directions. In early December, the Japanese troops were already in the outskirts of Nanking.

On December 9, the Japanese troops launched a massive attack upon the city [Nanking].

Eyewitness accounts from the period state that over the course of six weeks following the fall of Nanking, Japanese troops engaged in massacre. War crimes committed during this episode include the killing of civilians and prisoners of war, rape, looting, arson. It is not known how many Nationalist soldiers were trapped within the walled city and disguised themselves as civilians, but a large number of deaths also occurred to civilians including women and children....

Needless to say, this history has not been forgotten by either nation and we could say that relationships have always been "strained" since the end of the war. In October of 2005, "Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ... paid homage at a Tokyo shrine [Yasukuni Shrine] for [World War II] dead that is seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's militaristic past, drawing swift and angry protests from China and South Korea". It was his 5th such visit. As reported at Bloomberg on March 7th 2006 in Japan to Consider China Proposal on Gas Dispute,
Relations between China and Japan have become increasingly acrimonious in the past year as Asia's two biggest economies have argued over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo shrine that includes war criminals among the dead it honors.

"The key cause of difficulties in China-Japan relations is a certain Japanese leader who still insists on honoring Class A criminals who commanded aggression against China during World War II," Li said during a briefing in Beijing. "That Japanese leader should not continue to offend the people of China," Li said, without naming the leader.

So, as you can see, historical animosity has not eased off much and perceived provocations like these shrine visits have aggravated tensions over the disputed natural gas fields. In October, Japan proposed joint development of these inconveniently located gas fields but China has not agreed to any such arrangement. In fact, back in October of 2005, China started production in the Tianwaitian/Kashi field and has apparently started production in the other two fields as well. Meanwhile, negotiations drag and on, which the Japanese naturally enough interpret as a delaying ploy that allows Chinese production to continue unimpeded by any political agreement. It didn't help that last fall the Chinese carried out military manuevers in the area. This gunboat diplomacy was clearly meant to intimidate the Japanese. Of course it did nothing of the sort--it just pissed them off even more. So, Japan continues to press for a joint development while China is drilling for gas in the East China Sea.

There are other disputed maritime areas in Asia's waters. As Klare describes it

Although demand for natural gas has engendered cooperation between once-estranged nations, rival claims to oil and gas fields have frequently caused friction, even armed conflict. This has most often occurred in cases involving disputed offshore territories, notably in portions of the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Strait of Korea. All these areas are believed to harbor substantial reserves of hydrocarbons in one form or another--oil and gas combined, gas alone or, as in the Korea Strait, gas hydrates...

The most intense and prolonged of these conflicts has occurred in the South China Sea, a relatively shallow body of water believed to harbor substantial reserves of oil and gas. All of the countries with shorelines on the South China Sea--Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam--have laid claim to a 200-mile offshore Exclusive Economic Zone in the area, many of them overlapping with one another, and all have laid claims to some or all of the small islands and reefs that dot the region. China, the dominant power in the area, claims all the islands and has been particularly aggressive in asserting its sovereignty over them--on several occasions using military force to drive away ships belonging to Vietnam and the Philippines. Several attempts have been made by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to resolve the dispute peacefully, but China has not renounced its claim to the islands and continues to expand its small garrisons on some of the larger islets...

Japan is a party to two maritime boundary disputes in the region--the one with China discussed earlier [in this post] and another with South Korea over a cluster of small islands in the Strait of Korea located roughly midway between the two nations. Here, too, the conflict revolves around the boundary between two overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones and the ownership of energy supplies that are thought to lie in the disputed territory--in this case, gas hydrates that could be mined and converted into natural gas.

So far, all efforts to resolve any of these disputes peacefully have been unsuccessful. Here's the South China Sea.

The South China Sea -- Figure 2

As described by the EIA's South China Sea assessment, this region is "rich in natural resources such as oil and natural gas". As Klare notes above, there are no less than seven nations who have various EEZ claims to these hydrocarbon resources, including Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Thailand [Klare leaves them out] and finally, of course, China which would just declare that development rights in the entire South China Sea belongs to them if that were possible.

Geopolitical disputes over oil & natural gas are rampant in all of East Asia's maritime regions. These conflicts are acrimonious and bound to get worse. The Chinese feel little compunction about sending out a few gunboats and military aircraft to remind all the others who the Big Bully on the Block is. Geopolitically, these are signs of the "interesting times" we live in as oil & gas becomes more scarce and harder to produce globally. Is it inevitable that in the not-too-distant-future real military conflicts will evolve out of these disputes in East Asia? This could be a perilous new world as these geopolitical conflicts escalate.

Cooperation or armed conflict? What's your bet?

Given that we just coincidentally have 150,000 troops in the best remaining province in the world for undeveloped oil reserves--Iraq--I am not optimistic about a peaceful resolution.  
Great post Dave but viewed with Firefox the text is running under the right hand side bar
I can't explain that. I use Firefox too and things look fine but it was a bit funky about 5 minutes ago.
It's fine now for me
My bad. At that exact moment I was tweaking the layout of the site.
The other ingredient in this mess is Taiwan.
Do not forget that Japan occupied Taiwan for
50 years, then it had about 4 years of proper
independence before being invaded by the
Nationalist Chinese in 1949. According to
Taiwanese sources, locals were slaughtered
during the takeover. Communist China failed
to invade during the 1950s but has kept us a
war of words ever since. It is only in
relatively recent times that Taiwan has
escaped from the rule of the Kumintang.

An interestng development was the attempt by
the Japansese to reclaim an island just 35km
off the coast of coast of Taiwan in 2005. The
Taiwanese sent at patrol boat to repel the

The key of course to all this is that if China
can incorporate Taiwan (and that island), it can
extend its economic zone a considerable distance
eastwards into what the Japanese regard as their
zone of influence.

It is also interesting that there is still a
very sytrong animosity toward Japan amongst
many Koreans, who were subjected to four decades
of subjugation and cruelty by the Japanese.
S Korea, like Japan and Taiwan, is critically
dependent on imported oil and other resources,
and really is stuck up a creek without a paddle
if an international sharing protocol cannot be



    You needs to have a closer look at history. How can you say that the Nationalists of China "invaded" Taiwan at the end of WW II? There was a 1895 Sino-Japan sea war in which China, the then Ching Dynasty, lost and had to secede Taiwan to the Japanese. Near the end of WWII, the Allies agreed that upon conclusion of the war, all territories Japan grabbed from China shall rightfully be returned to China, and thus the Nationalist took Taiwan back in 1945. There was never an invasion, and Taiwan never had "4 years of independence" after WW II.

    A piece of history that's often forgotten is that Although Taiwan was never an independent country, The Kindom of Ryukyu was. Japan invaded the island in 1879 and occupied the country ever since, which is now known as Okinawa. For political reasons the Americans did not choose to allow Ryukyu go independent post WWII, and let it remain part of Japan instead. Had Ryukyu go independent Japan would have no business in that area of the sea. See this wikipedia entry

From Wikipedia;

Chinese nationalist rule began in October 1945 after the end of World War II. During the immediate postwar period, the Nationalist Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) administration on Taiwan was repressive and extremely corrupt compared with the previous Japanese rule, leading to local discontent. Anti-mainlander violence flared on February 28, 1947, prompted by an incident in which a cigarette seller was injured and a passerby was accidently shot dead by Nationalist authorities.

For several weeks after the February 28 Incident the rebels held control of much of the island. Feigning negotiation the Nationalists assembled a large military force (carried on United States naval vessels) that attacked Taiwan massacring nearly 30,000 Taiwanese and imprisoning thousands of others.

The killings were both random and premeditated as local elites or educated Taiwanese were sought out and disposed of. Many of the Taiwanese who had formed home rule groups under the Japanese were the victims of 2-28. This was followed by the "White Terror" in which many thousands of Taiwanese were imprisoned or executed for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang military regime, leaving many native Taiwanese with a deep-seated bitterness to the mainlanders. Until 1995, the KMT authorities suppressed accounts of this episode in Taiwan history. In 1995 a monument was dedicated to the victims of the "2-28 Incident", and for the first time the ROC President Lee Teng-hui publicly apologized for the Nationalists' brutality

When I took a short holiday in Taiwan a few years ago, several times Taiwanese I met would say, "I do not like Japan." (I worked then for a Japanese company and had told them so). Meeting spoken or written English was unusual and I had one conversation with a very old lady selling soft drink in Japanese, as out only common language - neither of us were very good.  

I might add that the central mountain range of Taiwan is very beautiful - the cities are the ugliest on earth.

Didn't Deffeyes name this area as the only place left on earth that petroleum geologists didn't know much about?  Because of the political situation.
I've looked at some of this - mainly off the east coast of Vietnam.  What I looked at was not very prospective.  Chinese companies, who are quickly becoming technically astute, would not be drilling for oil in Wall Street (e.g. Unocal) and in Athabasca if there were easy pickings in these near areas. That said, China is very aggressive at protecting what they consider to be their private bathtub.
Colin Campbell doesn't seem to believe that there is much oil in South China Sea (http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/interviews/147).
Dave Roberts at Gristmill has an entry today that's kind of related to this post. In his entry, he juxtaposes two articles that he read in the same issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The first article makes a case for Nigeria possibly being further along the path to failed statehood than Iraq, and most of it has to do with the oil situation in Nigeria. In the second article, "experts" are asked which countries they think are the biggest threat to the US, and every country listed is there because they may have the capacity to threaten the US with nuclear weapons. Roberts comments:
But nobody mentioned Nigeria. Indeed, none of the authorities saw fit to mention the coming end of cheap oil and the concomitant spread of failed states.

People are, by biological design I think, geared toward finding and fighting human enemies, human aggressors. But it's not open aggression that most threatens us. It's the loss of easy oil, and the horrific political and social situations we're going to have to meddle in to maintain what supply is left. It seems pretty clear based on this poll that the U.S. security establishment has not come around to that way of thinking.

Geopolitical threats appear to be the new black.

Almost nobody wants to think about Africa--too hopeless, too depressing.

Kudos to the exceptions.

I just reread Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."
It was painful reading, because so much of that hundred year old novella is direct prologue to the present.

The nature of evil does not change.

The US is not just a neutral bystander in all these things. Japan is being not just given permission, but being urged to rearm, and could acquire nuclear weapons in the blink of an eye. Japan is the US outpost on the eastern flank of China, India is being groomed for the western flank, and her nuclear status was blessed in the recent Bush visit.

Korea (South!) is far less ready to follow the baton. And of course S. Korea could also easily develop nuclear weapons if it chose to.

Where will Russia end up? So far the US has done far more damage to Russian interests than has China, but her huge empty spaces, vast resources and (relatively) small population cannot but stimulate improper thoughts in its  resource-starved southern neighbor with 1.3 billion people. Nuclear weapons, the missiles to deliver them, lots of gas and oil -- these enable a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship with China for the near term. Somewhat longer term, the relationship is another bomb waiting to go off.

Despite China's military buildup, she and some 20 other countries' military budgets do not equal that of the US. Some picture China as the upcoming threat to the US empire. But China has its own vulnerabilities -- much unrest in the countryside, which would become much worse with any downturn in the US economy, terrible ecological problems, and of course a growing energy deficit with no good solution is sight. I see no chance whatsoever in China challenging US global hegemony on the basis of its continued growth.

There is no doubt that the US empire will crumble as have all empires, due to overreach among other things, but its hard to see China standing around unscathed, ready to step in its shoes. What I think is possible is that the day of global empire may be nearing its end -- no one will be able to sustain one anymore, not the least because of peak oil.

Unfortunately, there may be one more horrendous and gigantic spasm of violence in the coming decade or two before that day arrives.

 "What I think is possible is that the day of global empire may be nearing its end -- no one will be able to sustain one anymore, not the least because of peak oil."

That seems right to me.  The military is already proclaiming a fiscal crisis just based on the price of oil doubling to $60.  Military power is all about transportation and transportation, of course, is all about oil.  So at much higher prices, it simply will not be able to afford to project itself into all corners of the world.   Peak oil's number one victim will be all countries' military efforts, and most particularly those of the U.S.  

The brass will scream like mad, but so will the voters when they are subject to rationing and/or enormous prices and when they then come to understand how much fuel the military is squandering.  Triage will be the order of the day and the only solution will be to downsize, especially the projection of force in the sea and the air around the world, since the last place to cut back (one hopes) is the defence of the homeland.   U.S. downsizing will be made a bit easier by the forced reduction of military spending by China, for the same reasons.  

On the other hand, of course, the belicose oil exporters like Russia and Venezuela may have a different take.   They may see the opportunity for improved power, which would then cause them to allocate production away from exporting and toward their own internal uses, including military.   Which, of course, would exacerbate the oil supply problem for all importers, including both the U.S. and China.  

This whole line of thought is just one example of the chaotic changes that will effect virtually all aspects of life post-peak.

I sort of agree with a lot Dave and Oilaholic have said. Only I'm not sure about the end of empire. I actually think the last thing we'll give up in an "interesting" world, with oil shortages, will be our military strengh. Sure one needs wealth and an advanced infrastructure to support a huge military and an empire, but in time of war it's relatively easy to convince the people that sacrifices have to be made. The army is the last place Peak Oil is going to hit with full force.

Basically I think current American foreign policy is crackpot and probably counterproductive as well.

I also believe that if 9/11 hadn't have gone down when it did, the simmering tension with China may have pushed its way far higher up the political agenda. One has to remember that there are forces in the U.S. that appear to want some sort of conflict with China.

The recent visit of Bush to India and the signing of a nuclear co-operation pact hasn't gone unoticed in China or in Pakistan. Pakistan was more or less humiliated by Bush. They got nothing, only a scolding. This is an unwise strategy. Pakistan has the Bomb after all. Seeing the U.S. moving closer to India is causing instability in Pakistan. The Pakistani military and security services are unstable and semi-independent of the central government.

Currently Iran wishes to build an oil/gas pipeline through Pakistan and India to China. All four countries will benefit from this, but the Bush administration is against this pipeline. This is also a short-sighted policy. One risks upsetting everybody.

Already in India there is a great deal of debate about the wisdom of India forming a de facto alliance with the U.S. against China. Many Indians don't see the sense of it. Why choose an aliance with a country which is going down over one (China) which is going up?

I think the U.S. is pushing China into the arms of Russia. China and Russia for a lot of reasons could form a really powerful alliance. Iran would be nuts not to join this group. Pakistan may do to as a counter-balance to India's alliance with the United States.

Dave may well be correct when he says that the age of empire is over. As there is only one "empire" in the world now, that means the end of the age of America is over. That may also be true. But that isn't really going to mean much to Russia, India and China which are still going to be around even if the American Empire falls.

Writerman makes a good point saying "I actually think the last thing we'll give up in an "interesting" world, with oil shortages, will be our military strengh."    In fact it is very hard to imagine, from the perspective of our current world, the idea of reducing military spending.   However, like so many paradigms that will change when oil becomes scarce, this one will too.  

It is just very hard for us to to project ourselves into a world where economies are so hobbled that food and shelter are the chief concerns of a majority of the population.   Forget vacations.  Forget status symbols, MP3's, the latest video games, visits to Disneyland - don't even dream about hopping on a plane.  But that world will also govern military spending, and if the oil ain't there, it ain't there.   So I don't think our Congress will be approving military bases all over the world when their constituents are concerned about the costs of food and shelter.

Now, China might be a different story because people don't get to vote in China.  Also, their peasant population, currently still 2/3rds of the country, is used to extreme poverty.   In that situation, I image that at least for a while, the government could fall back on the reflexive instinct to distract the population through war and could order sufficient oil supplies to do it.   But it would likely be a regional conflict, probably aimed at Taiwan, possibly Japan.

In today's world, there is no doubt that the U.S. reaction would be to strike back, defending both Taiwan and Japan.   But, again, try to project your mind into a world of 20% unemployment, $500 oil, $trillion budget deficits, $2,000/oz gold, bank failures, etc.  In that situation, the U.S. position is a rather far way from a slam-dunk.  My guess:  Fortress America.  Massive programs to develop nuclear energy, enhance the grid, develop rail transport.  These sorts of programs, plus the reversal of globalization so that manufacturing comes back home, is what keeps unemployment at "only" 20%.  

And why, in that situation is oil at $500 and not $5?   Because there are almost no exporters.  Sure, we'll get some from Canada, but the Saudi's, Russians, Venezuelan's, etc. will cut way back on exports, recognizing that the end of their own oil supplies are in sight and not being willing to sell their future for worthless dollars.

So that's why U.S. military hegemony will end.   Not next year or in five years.  But likely in twenty years.

Jesus! Oilaholic old man, is that how you really see the world "developing" during the rest of our lifetimes? That's a pretty detailed and depressing scenario ain't it? It's a dystopian nightmare infact!

In a world like that, with such drastic economic/social/political disruption, I think all bets are off about our collective futures. I mean if were really go down that kind of road, a road that only leads downwards towards...towards barbarism and the end of our way of life and civilization, then I see nuclear war in my dark, crystal ball. We ain't gonna get thru it in one piece, man!
See, now look what you've gone and done, I'm starting to sound even more pessimistic than you do!

I can imagine a lot. I do it for a living. I could imagine a world with the United States fighting resource wars all over the place. American robot/human hybrid legions on the march everywhere. In Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Nigeria, Sudan, Libya, carving huge chunks out of Russia and Canada... the list of countries with oil in long, but how realistic is it? A few thousand resitance fighters in Iraq are winning a guerilla war against an American army, can one really imagine the U:S. fighting two or three wars like that? I somehow doubt it. I don't believe the current American political system could survive such a scenario. Some form of "dictatorship" maybe, might want to take on such an "insane" role, but goodbye to democracy along the way.

I can't remember if I mentioned this, but my daughter spent some time in China recently. She was teaching english at an elite highschool outside Beijing. Lots of the young people she talked to seemed convinced the United States wanted a conflict with China before China became too strong. They thought China would do everything in its power to avoid such a conflict, because it wasn't strong enough at present to win such a conflict. For the next ten to twenty years the priority was economic growth and development. Then and only then, when China was strong, could they afford to adopt a less passive and defensive role if they were forced to. So that is perhaps a kind of anecdotal Chinese perspective.

Now, I'm sceptical about many conspiracy theories, but politics is a sort of conspiracy by it's very nature. I think there are influential groups in the U.S. who don't want China to reach economic/military parity with the United States anytime. If one reads some of the latest reports from the Pentagon this attitude is expressed openly. The United States we stop any nation from becoming a new Soviet Union. A new bi-polar world in not acceptable. Now I don't know how seriously one should take this kind of talk. Are they remotely serious, are they realistic, is such talk hubristic nonsense? Who knows? It should perhaps be mentioned that there are other groups in the U.S. that don't want conflict with China.

The problem is, it could happen without anyone really wanting it to happen. China has a very emotional attitude towards the province of Taiwan. China is concerned about rising Japanese nationalism. The same groups in the U.S. that want conflict with China also have close contacts with Taiwan. They could encourage Taiwan to declare unilateral independence from China. The Taiwanses could do this hoping to "force" the United States to defend them from a Chinese invasion. China will not accept an independent Taiwan. Some think the Chinese army would take over if the politicians in Beijing even contemplated accepting Taiwanese independence. So one needs to be really careful about the forces being relised in this area.

Personally, I think we have a stark choice about the future we are going to inhabit. We all have to learn to live together, or, die together.


"Personally, I think we have a stark choice about the future we are going to inhabit. We all have to learn to live together, or, die together."

That is also my deepest and most fundamental belief. I just don't know how much dying together it will take before we decide to live together.

More oil for China will allow the Chinese
to make more pollution and bring the apocalypse
that bit closer.

This latest item brings low altitude ozone into
the global warming equation.

NASA scientists have found that a major form of
global air pollution involved in summertime
"smog" has also played a significant role in
warming the Arctic.

In a global assessment of the impact of ozone
on climate warming, scientists at the NASA
Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS),
New York, evaluated how ozone in the lowest
part of the atmosphere changed temperatures
over the past 100 years. Using the best
available estimates of global emissions of
gases that produce ozone, the GISS computer
model study reveals how much this single air
pollutant, and greenhouse gas, has contributed
to warming in specific regions of the world.

According to this new research, ozone was
responsible for one-third to half of the
observed warming trend in the Arctic during
winter and spring. Ozone is transported from
the industrialized countries in the Northern
Hemisphere to the Arctic quite efficiently
during these seasons. The findings have been
accepted for publication in the American
Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical

Ozone plays several different roles in the
Earth's atmosphere. In the high-altitude region
of the stratosphere, ozone acts to shield the
planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation. In
the lower portion of the atmosphere (the
troposphere), ozone can damage human health,
crops and ecosystems. Ozone is also a greenhouse
gas and contributes to global warming.

Ozone is formed from several other chemicals
found in the atmosphere near the Earth's surface
that come from both natural sources and human
activities such as fossil fuel burning, cement
manufacturing, fertilizer application and
biomass burning. Ozone is one of several air
pollutants regulated in the United States by
the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The impact of ozone air pollution on climate
warming is difficult to pinpoint because,
unlike other greenhouse gases such as carbon
dioxide, ozone does not last long enough in
the lower atmosphere to spread uniformly
around the globe. Its warming impact is much
more closely tied to the region it originated
from. To capture this complex picture, GISS
scientists used a suite of three-dimensional
computer models that starts with data on ozone
sources and then tracks how ozone chemically
evolved and moved around the world over the
past century.

The warming impact of low-altitude ozone on
the Arctic is very small in the summer months
because ozone from other parts of the globe
does not have time to reach the region before
it is destroyed by chemical reactions fueled
by ample sunshine. As a result, when it is
summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, ozone-
induced warming is largest near the sources of
ozone emissions. The computer model showed
large summer warming from ozone over western
North America and eastern Europe/central Asia,
areas with high levels of ozone pollution during
that time of year.

The new results identify an unexpected benefit
of air pollution control efforts worldwide,
according to lead author Drew Shindell. "We
now see that reducing ozone pollution can not
only improve air quality but also have the
added benefit of easing climate warming,
especially in the Arctic."

The research was supported by NASA's
Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling and Analysis

    There's scepticism about some of the work coming out of GISS. For example, there's neglect of the effect of urban heat islands when comparing data of different epochs - see www.warwickhughes.com - and mysterious changes in the GISS past temperatures of small Swedish towns -see www.climateaudit.org.
    It's also very hard to put a lot of faith in climate models when we don't have all the data for water vapor, the dominant contributor to "global warming". There is a very large uncertainty in water vapor absorption, which many people try to correct for by putting in a "fudge factor". This doesn't give a warm and fuzzy feeling about the reliability of their results.
Good to see that oil/gas-related East Asian geopolitics have found their way on to TOD!
There is much more going on in the far East than what is in this post. Include Russia and the potential for conflict or cooperation increases hugely. And it will have a big effect on American/European supply security as well.

Japan and China have been bickering over the Siberian oil pipeline for a few years now, and it still doesn't seem resolved. Where will Sakhalin gas go to? What are the opportunities for a regional gas pipeline network?
Not to mention increasing Chinese military presence in South East Asia to protect supply security through the sealanes of communications (Strait of Malacca).

Hope there will be follow-up posts...!


You are absolutely right. This is just a starting point. A good starting point I might add, and it does indeed seem like the squabble between Japan and China is over a relatively small amount of gas to be pumped in terms of the global needs.

Maybe over the next few weeks there could be different posts on various aspects of this. Indonesian oil reserves springs to mind and the political situation in that, the largest Muslim population on the planet.

I've lived in Japan off and on for 12 years since the mid-80s. I speak and read Japanese but don't take a lot of notice of the Japanese media since it's mostly garbage like everywhere else.

I can tell you that in the last couple of years the Japanese "establishment" (media, politicians, bureaucrats, academics) have become utterly obsessed with China. The only thing that rivals it is their obsession with North Korea and I'd say it's well eclipsed that by now. The threat of Big Bad China is everywhere you look, even though China has never attacked or invaded Japan, only the other way round. The Japanese establishment are utterly appalled at the prospect of losing their status as the most important economy in Asia.

But there's a big internal conflict to this in Japan. The business elite have totally thrown their destiny behind peaceful symbiosis with their giant neighbour. China last year became Japan's number one  export market. Thousands of Japanese companies have manufacturing bases in China (FDI) and tens of thousands more contract Chinese factories to produce their goods (cheaply). And the corporates know that they need China's consumer market to propell growth when the US implodes on itself. And Japan's population is shrinking. Japan is now importing engineering graduates from China to cover the labour-force holes all those retiring baby boomers are going to make. up to now the only large-scale imported labour japan has used is latin americans in the auto parts factories.

My personal take on this is that the amount of gas under dispute is small change compared with Japan's needs and they are just using it as a nationalistic way to stir up hatred against China, with the US cheerleading of course.

And don't think I'm defending the disgusting Deng Xioping cadres running China, they've got theirs coming too, which is why they're so desparate to secure energy supplies and play the nationalistic card themselves.

Thanks for the interesting information on the internal situation in Japan. That is pretty much my take too. I think we can see a kind of pattern developing in the region and in the U.S. as well. There seems to be a "war party" and a "peace party" competing for power everywhere. This is really dangerous. What we have to hope for is that the "war party" doesn't rise to power at the same time in two or more competing/conflicting nations. Then we'd really be in trouble. They would feed off each other and who knows where it would all end? I really think we have to abandon war as any kind of solution to our problems/conflicts. It's just too damn dangerous these days!
I've been trying to figure out a reason why China has been so eagerly loading up on US debt knowing how things seem headed for major meltdown in the US housing market among other things.

Is the huge Chinese US$ reserve a military weapon waiting to be used? "Careful what you do in our backyard (or with Iran) One false move and I sink your currency!" It would be expensive but could the Chinese govt somehow spontaneously do this, even though it is not the government holding all that paper?

You talk about it as if they had much choice. China, Japan, Taiwan have been piling up US debt for decades now, due to their predominant trade with USA and because of the intentionally kept unstable international financial markets. The euro appeared relatively soon, and the ECB is not at all enthusiastic on it taking the USD-s place - they are also held hostage on the US economy health.

In general the problems is more theirs than ours.

Oh good!  One thing this new Age of Resource Wars has been lacking so far is big naval battles.  Maybe the Seventh Fleet will be able to get in on more action than just having some stray corpsmen and seabees in Falluja.
Uncle Toby,
One very nice thing about having overwhelming naval power is that nobody messes with you on the high seas. They don't even think about it. There are worse things in the world than boredom on board.

Note that the global peace (with a few sideshows such as the U.S. Civil War, the Crimean War, and the splendid little war, the Spanish-American War) from 1814 through 1913 was maintained by the overwhelming force of the Royal Navy. Only when that uppity Kaiser decided to build a lot of dreadnaughts to challenge Britannia's rule of the waves did TSHTF.

Pueblo, Mayaguez ...?
You go into somebody's territorial waters, you take your chances.

Note that what used to be called the "Formosa Strait" is in international waters.

I've blabbed enough for one day, so I'll get back to writing my Chinese book and just say, I don't believe China wants conflict with the United States. It's expensive, unecessary and the outcome is uncertain.

China is very big, with a huge population. It's almost a world in itself. They have enough to do just keeping China on the rails. Historically China has not really gone in for expansionism of a large scale. Why should they given the above? They felt for centuries that they were the world or at least the empire in the middle and outside their were only tribes and barbarians, that one didn't really want that much contact with. China had everything it needed thank you very much!

Of course things are different now. They have become the workshop of the world, they are going to need predigeous ammounts of energy and they will probably become the world's leading power as long as peace holds. This is going to sound provocative to many of you guys. I am not particularly worried about Chinese expansionism.Because of their size they can sit back and let the world come to them. That was what it was like for centuries after all. China kind of likes that role. No, what really, really worries me, is how is the United States going to react to the rise of super-power China? What concerns me, and seems more likely, is American agression aimed at China which would be an absolute disaster!

On a tangent, I don't believe China will out innovate
US.  It will need to innovate more than US to outcompete US.  Otherwise, China will just be like Japan and EU.
They will become a modern society that is almost equal
to US.

I studied China history quite a bit and I failed to see
China as a pacifist country.  It conquer and bullies its
neighbors constantly.  Only the Ming Dynasty withdrew
its naval fleet and outlawed large ships that prevented
China from colonizing other distant land.  Besides that
withdraw, they have attacked and attacked.  They have
forced other countries to back down.  Just look at
Vietnam and what happen after US-Vietnam war.  China
invaded Vietnam.

Just want to point out that China and other parties
have agreed to fund a 2D seismic study for oil in
the South China Sea.

Also, I want to point out that China and Japan
disagree on how to divide the area.  Japan refused
to use a 50/50 joint venture.  Also, Japan is insistant
on claiming most of the natural gas fields.  They are
not willing to negotiate, until China stops its
development and does not produce from the disputed region.

I don't think any of these points were mention.

Did you read the news sources I cited? I don't think your story is the one they tell. Do you have any links I might have overlooked?
Yes, I read your news sources.  No idea why you are pointing that out.  It does not include the latest news.
Bloomberg article was March 7th.  On March 8th, Japan rejected it.

For some reason, I had a hard time finding an online source from what I read, but here is one:

As for Spratly Islands:


In march 2005 is when the deal was sign to do more seismic studies.

I have no better idea than anybody else how this Japan/China thing is going to play out. It could just remain a long-festering wound that doesn't get any better or any worse, or it could escalate into something reallyscary. There is certainly no love lost between the peoples of China and Japan - and for good reason.

Japan is in an extremely precarious situation, a fact that I'm sure has not escaped their people or their government. They have a very high population density but virtually zero energy resources; they are located only a stone's throw away from a nuclear-armed country of some 1.3 billion people, many of whom hold a bitter grudge over Japan's atrocities in China during WW II; and they are heavily dependent on the good graces of the US for their ultimate protection from China.

All this says to me that there must be tremendous pressure in Japan to shred their constitutional strictures against nuclear weapons and go nuclear, something they are quite easily capable of doing, given their level of technological sophistication and extensive experience in nuclear power. It wouldn't surprise me at all if they already had a fully developed design for a deliverable nuclear weapon, that would only need to be loaded with plutonium or enriched uranium to make it official.  Hell, if the decision were made on a Friday afternoon, they'd probably have a bomb ready by late Monday morning. (Well, almost.)

As to Taiwan:

I really have a hard time picturing the US going the distance in defending Taiwan. What do we have to gain by doing that, other than maintaining  some prestige?  But we'd have a lot to lose. Large US corporations have invested many billions of dollars in China, and the US is highly dependent on China for the import of an increasing fraction of our consumer goods. Then there is the issue of all the dollars being held by China.

Then from a strictly military standpoint, defending Taiwan without going nuclear would be no picnic. Sending a carrier battle group or two into the theatre might forestall an actual invasion by China and might be able to inflict substantial damage on the Chinese military assets arrayed against Taiwan. But what are we going to do then: keep them there indefinitely, where they will become juicy targets for cruise missile and submarine attack?  If nothing else, the Chinese are very patient. I don't think that in the long run the  US can defend Taiwan (without going nuclear) against the Chinese, any better than it was able to defend the Philippines against the Japanese at the start of WW II.

 For the above reasons, I suspect that the US has already made a wink-and-a-nod decision to let China have Taiwan, and that the only problem is how to finesse the Chinese takeover without making it look like an outright sell-out. Just  my hunch.

Why should Japan spend resources to go nuclear when it can rely on the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force to defend it? The Japanese are no fools. Neither are the Chinese.

What possible gain would China get from a failed invasion of Taiwan, for example? Half the planes from a single U.S. aircraft carriers could take out any Chinese invasion fleet in a couple of hours, using conventional weapons. Everybody knows that. Nobody except for the U.S. and its allies is going to cross international waters to invade anybody.

It has been that way for a long time.

Oh, I don't know about that.

The Japanese don't have to spend much resources at all to go nuclear, as they are halfway there already.  They can easily afford it. If you were Japanese, would you trust your fate indefinitely to the whims of US politics for your protection? Particularly since the US is doing such a fine job around the world these days. And if you are dependent upon the US, then the US has power over you. I don't think the Japanese like that.

An invasion of Taiwan does not  have to succeed on the first try, which would only be an opening gambit.  No doubt a  US carrier battle group could inflict a great deal of damage on a Chinese invasion fleet, but what about the vulnerability of the carrier battle group?  Do you think it can stay on battle stations off Taiwan forever without  sooner or later suffering a successful missile or submarine attack? Would we have to rotate carrier battle groups indefinitely?

Besides the whole thing could start with a massive missile attack on Taiwan, so there doesn't even have to be an invasion fleet in the opening phase.  Again, I think the key question is: would defending Taiwan be worth the cost to the US, not just militarily but economically?  Particularly since we are so heavily engaged in the Middle East.

Nor did I say that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is inevitable.  I personally think that in some way the fix is in, and that there is some sort of implicit understanding between the US and China that sooner or later Taiwan will be theirs. As I said, the Chinese are very patient people.

Again, what does the US really have to gain by defending Taiwan compared to what it has to lose by being engaged in a war with China? China, on the other hand, has a far stronger motivation for 'returning' Taiwan to the Motherland. I think China will ultimately prevail.

International waters?"

Sorry: the sentence fragment "international waters?" was merely the remnants of some text that wasn't fully deleted.

So, no need to answer either YES or NO to anything:-)

An invasion of Taiwan does not have to succeed on the first try, which would only be an opening gambit.

Unless it wants to fail on the 2nd and 3rd tries, as well. Going to have to go with Sailorman on this one.

Why haven't the Chinese tried so far? Does it have anything to do with the fact that they have one(1) aircraft carrier, if you can call it that, and we have 12+. In other words we have 12 tried-and-true carrier battle groups with God-knows-how-many in mothballs. Not only that. Look at what is on the decks of our flat-tops. F-18's with the best-trained, best equipped, smartest top-guns in the history of the world. Look at what their competition is. This is what you call Air-Superiority - the be-all and end-all of offensive warfare.

And each battle-group and its accompanying submarine and marine-amphibious armadas designed specifically for the purpose of defending Taiwan(among other purposes, granted, but largely conceived during a Cold-War where that was the deal, rather than the Mid-East). N.B.- William Safire in last week's NYT says we can't capitalize cold-war anymore and the "War on Terror"/"Iraq War" should be called the "long-war." I will, of course, adopt this convention as soon as I remember. (sp- is that capitolize?)

There are several reasons we don't or wouldn't want to fight the Chinese, there are no reasons why they would win. Bad news for them - we still want a rematch on the Korea stalemate.

The world is basically trying to leap-frog to missile-parity with the US, and we are trying to dissuade the world from that, because it will just be ugly for everyone.

The race is about who can outspend whom.

You can disagree with Sailorman, but you have to take into account his knowledge of warfare and global politics.

In 1871 the French decided they were going to beat up on the Prussians and teach them respect. A Chinese attack on Taiwan would have about the same results. Taiwan has a very sophisticated electronics industry and I wouldn't make book on our ability to beat them.
Remember, the rest of the world doesn't have to have military industrial complexes that are as corrupt and expensive as ours.
Someone, probably my father, told me a war story that goes something like this.  The Russians were fighting the Chinese, and the Chinese underlings told their general that the Russians were killing their men ten to one (or even worse).  Hearing this, the Chinese general smiled, certain his forces would eventually prevail.
Russia has a population of 150 million, China has a population of 1,200 million. The loss ratio should be 8 to 1 for a victory. Then again, the Russia population has fewer men of military age. Then again, the Chinese government is not popular among their people. Then again, the Russian government isn't, either. Then again, defensive wars tend to arouse more enthusiasm than offensive wars.