9th Asian Security Conference

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  • Session III: Energy and Security Issues

    Rapporteur Report
    by
    Rushda Siddiqui and Samuel Rajiv
    February 9, 2007

    The theme for the session was set by Dr. Ligia Noronah, who raised important issues about the different types of energy in use, the importance of hydrocarbon energy, and the quagmire in West Asia. According to her, the defining parameters of power and influence in the post-Cold War era have changed to economic dynamism and successful global engagement. Access to “affordable” and “secure” resources has become central to this paradigm. An increased demand, perception of resource scarcity, zero sum thinking, and competition creates a potential for conflict. Key energy security issues include an energy economy still centred on hydrocarbons, which subsequently gets impacted by high oil prices. These have resulted in rising resource nationalism, competition or co-operation for resource acquisition and risks related to energy supply infrastructure. The solution to the problem of increased dependence on West Asian energy, particularly in Asia, is taking the form of increased co-operation between countries, attempts to locate alternate sources of oil and gas resources, and finally, in joint investments in oil fields in other countries. The alternative that is most sought after is Africa. China, India, Malaysia, Japan and Korea are the key Asian players in this project of investment in oil fields. She concluded with the question whether increased engagement with ‘problem states’ would translate into more potential conflict or would lead to stability.

    The first paper in this session, titled “Energy Cooperation and Competition: Implications for China-ASEAN Relations in the South China Sea,” was presented by Aileen Baviera. She focused on the rise of China and the consequent rise in its energy demand and dependency. The moot question, in her view, was to understand if China was entering into unholy alliances for energy. She focused on the territorial and resource disputes in the South China Sea (SCS). The hydrocarbon potential of the SCS has not been statistically quantified in terms of availability and potential for exploitation. The SCS dispute has become a regional and a bilateral problem. The territorial and resource dispute in the Spartlys has six claimants. The attempt to find a solution has been small and shaky. It has been dealt with at the level of regional co-operation forums like the ASEAN and has involved proposals like joint energy development programmes. However, there has been no successful model for the settlement of disputes. The need for co-operation, and to avoid military confrontation, is enormous.

    Rahul Roy-Chaudhary spoke on “Furthering Maritime Co-operation with Southeast Asia.” He emphasised on the fact that India’s maritime interactions were increasing with the countries of Southeast Asia. Maritime co-operation, however, is not a one-way street. There are a lot of things that we can learn and we can offer our own capabilities to these countries. India’s former External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee,had listed three aspects of maritime security at the IISS’s Shangri La Dialogue in June 2006: (a) Indian encouragement of the co-operative patrolling by Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia; (b) general offer to share India’s expertise on maritime security, both military and on soft issues; and, (c) keenness to be associated with the maritime training centre. Roy-Chaudhary also identified four major Indian policies that could be beneficial: (a) disaster management, (b) search and rescue operations, (c) co-operation in building upon maritime conventions, and (d) boundary management agreements. India and the countries of Southeast Asian region are transiting from a period of naval diplomacy through defence diplomacy. What is required is the need to develop maritime diplomacy.

    The fourth speaker was Commander Gurpreet Khurana, who focused on ‘The Malacca Straits Conundrum and India.” Pointing out the strategic importance of the Malacca Straits for India, he categorised the security threat in the Straits. The first was the risk factor of piracy, maritime crime and terrorism. Though there has been a statistical decline in the number of piracy cases, the increase in the availability of sophisticated weapons has only made the region more insecure. The second angle to the hurdles in security is the issue of ‘sovereignty’. Here, he felt that the small states should allow international intervention and to a limited extent an international naval presence in the region. The third angle, in the triangle, involved the ‘littoral user’ divide, meaning the sharing of costs of the naval security of the region. The suggested framework for co-operation should include the sharing of maritime domain awareness, joint patrols, and joint law enforcement to reduce vulnerability, assistance in hydrography, disaster relief and oil-spill responses. At times a proportional contribution may be necessary during adversities. This must go beyond combating threats and reducing vulnerabilities. The littorals may need to shed their sensitivities on ‘sovereignty’.

    Abdul Rahim Hussin spoke on “Maritime Security Issues and Co-operation in Southeast Asia.” The turning point in the changing security perceptions in the region came in the wake of 9/11. Given that piracy has been a tradition in the region, the issue came to be considered a high security threat due its linkage with terrorism. Muslim extremism, and groups like those of Abu Sayyaf, are also linked to piracy. In reality, however, the hype is false. There has been a decline in the quantum of piracy, and it is not as large an issue as it is made out to be. The bigger transnational maritime threat comes from drug and human trafficking. Most Southeast Asian countries lack in proper law enforcement agencies as well as adequate laws on maritime security. The problem is not of dealing with the issue of piracy on the scale of an armed forces threat, but on the level of civil law enforcement. The role of the Navy and the coast guards, their powers and functions adequately define the maritime problem of the region. The responses to counter-measures on maritime security issues should focus on regional co-operation, letting the ASEAN formulate solutions and proper enforcement of these solutions, and joint naval patrols in the region. In this context, it is important to understand that, as India or China or Japan are rising powers, they would come forward with proposals for maritime solutions.

    The last speaker in the session was Raja Mohan, whose paper was titled “Energy Security and Southeast Asia: India’s Perspectives.” His focus was on the growth of India and China as world powers. Their perspectives towards each other and their security dynamics and policies are what are shaping the energy security of the world. Global events are also shaping up the responses of both countries. Five elements of change can be seen in India’s policies towards security:
    (a) Shift from traditional military apprehension in co-operating with other countries of the region towards multilateral military engagements. India is essentially saying that you cannot keep everybody out from the Southeast Asian region. It is an interesting shift in emphasis, particularly from the time when India was wary of outside presence in the Indian Ocean region.
    (b) India traditionally wanted an UNSC mandate for its armed forces to work outside the country. This position has seen a shift in the last two years. More multilateral co-operation operations are being planned and executed, where India is prepared to take political risks.
    (c) Innovative military diplomacy is being followed. For instance, Seychelles and Maldives were given fast attack craft as gifts. Not just the Indian Navy, but the IAF is also conducting exercises in Singapore. The Defence Co-operation Agreement with Singapore is a model.
    (d) The security dilemma is shaping India's ties with China. The two countries have ambitious policies: China has its ‘string of pearls’ concept, while India is following a “forward-looking’ strategy. Potential of the security dilemma creating a dynamic of its own can lead to dangerous consequences.
    (e) There is a need to mitigate this problem by following substantive co-operative measures to overcome misperceptions. The need to have more bilateral dialogues with China is important for regional security. India needs to explain its policy and logic to China and they need to do the same, so that they do not perceive each other as a threat.

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