Could Asia enjoy a 21st Century Pax-ASEAN-Ameri-China? It's not that farfetched.
That's because current territorial tension in the South China Sea isn't about islands. It's about access to energy, fisheries and control over navigation.
The first two can be priced and auctioned. The third can be ensured by cooperating navies enforcing the recognized property rights created by the first two.
The path to this future looks wide open. China, Vietnam and the Philippines, the three main countries butting heads in the South China Sea, all support the concept of Joint Development.
Joint Development Areas (JDAs) are created when countries with disputing claims to an offshore area agree to set those claims aside for an indefinite period while they jointly develop the resources within them.
JDAs have pedigree. They already exist all over the world. Three exist in the South China Sea.
My research organization, Grenatec, proposes nine more be created.
The result? Market arbitration of South China Sea territorial claims for, say, 20-40 years. After that, territorial finality can be negotiated when the stakes are lower because the hydrocarbons have been exhausted.
Under Grenatec's plan, these nine South China Sea JDAs would be interconnected by an open-access, common-carrier offshore pipeline connecting them to downstream regional markets.
The reason is that there's more in the South China Sea than just oil and gas. This needs to be incorporated into investment decisions.
JDAs connected to downstream infrastructure allows oil and gas development over the short-term. This would be followed by development of methane hydrates, wind, ocean thermal, biofuel and offshore aquaculture over the long-term. All have already been suggested for the South China Sea.
Auctioning off access to JDAs not only shelves territorial claims indefinitely, but also provides a big pot of money to recycle into building the needed downstream delivery infrastructure.
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