Sun, Apr 07, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Why Asian countries are scrambling for resources

Asia is the world’s most resource-poor continent and its booming economies cannot sustain growth without access to them

By Brahma Chellaney

The other corridor — work on which has been delayed, owing to an insurrection in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province — is to stretch from the Chinese-operated port at Gwadar, near Pakistan’s border with Iran, through the Karakoram mountains to the landlocked, energy-producing Xinjiang Province. Notably, in giving China control of its strategic Gwadar port in February, Pakistan has permitted the Chinese government to build a naval base there.

Given the significant role that natural resources have historically played in global strategic relations — including driving armed interventions and full-scale wars — increasingly murky resource geopolitics threaten to exacerbate existing tensions among Asian countries. Rising dependence on energy imports has already been used to rationalize an increased emphasis on maritime power, raising new concerns about sea-lane safety and vulnerability to supply disruptions.

This partly explains the current tensions between China and Japan over their conflicting territorial claims to islands in the East China Sea, which occupy an area of only 7km2, but are surrounded by rich hydrocarbon reserves. Disputes in the South China Sea involving China and five of its neighbors — including Taiwan — and in southern Asia, are equally resource-driven.

While strategic competition for resources will continue to shape Asia’s security dynamics, the associated risks can be moderated if Asia’s leaders establish norms and institutions aimed at building rule-based cooperation. Unfortunately, little progress has been made in this area. For example, 53 of Asia’s 57 transnational river basins lack any water-sharing or cooperative arrangement.

Indeed, Asia is one of only two continents, along with Africa, where regional integration has yet to take hold, largely because political and cultural diversity, and historical animosities, have hindered institution-building. Strained political relations among most of Asia’s sub-regions make a region-wide security structure or more effective resource cooperation difficult to achieve.

This could have significant implications for Asia’s ostensibly unstoppable rise — and thus for the West’s supposedly inevitable decline. After all, Asian economies cannot sustain their impressive economic growth without addressing their resource, environmental and security challenges — and no single country can do it alone.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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