Oil and gas development in the Bay of Bengal is being opened in areas previously disputed by Bangladesh and Burma, creating a potential model for similar maritime disputes among China and its neighbors, a Voice of America (VOA) article said on Friday.
Bangladesh and Burma are now awaiting bids from foreign companies to explore potentially rich oil and gas blocks in the Bay of Bengal, said VOA.
In 2009, both countries agreed to take the conflict to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg. In March, the tribunal defined each country’s territory and both sides accepted it. The tribunal's decision gave Bangladesh more sea territory while Burma got more overall territory.
“It is a first case involving delimitation beyond 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers). It is also the first experience before the tribunal for Asian countries. I am convinced that there is a future for the tribunal in the handling of such disputes,” said the tribunal registrar.
Officials said the tribunal is ready to handle similar disputes over resource-rich territory in the East China and South China Seas, if and when disputing parties are ready.
The article noted that Beijing and Tokyo remain in a heated standoff over a small chain of islands known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkakus in Japan. Earlier this year relations between China and the Philippines slipped after their ships faced-off over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
The disputes raised international concerns, notably from the United States, which has security agreements with Japan and the Philippines, said the VOA.
US Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, who visited Bangladesh this month, cited the territorial deal between Burma and Bangladesh, and called it an excellent model to settle maritime conflicts with China. He repeated such remarks on Tuesday to journalists in Bangkok.
“These disputes must be managed in a peaceful way, that they must be done without significant coercion, that they must, that we would prefer that they be arbitrated through a rule of law mechanism,” he said.
However, analysts said martitime conflicts in the East and South China Seas are more complicated than those in the Bay of Bengal.
China has claimed almost all of the South China Sea, putting it in conflict with claims by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Beijing has said it is not willing to accept international arbitration and prefers to negotiate bilaterally.