Counterintuitive as it seems, South China Sea tensions could foster pan-Asian integration.
Through implementing Joint Development Areas (JDAs) for offshore oil and gas development. These in turn could spur long-term cooperative investment in a multilateral energy delivery infrastructure.
These ideas aren't new. They aren't unconventional. They aren't iconoclastic. They've all been suggested before.
Consider how it might work.
A South China Sea 'JDA-zone' could be established in a 'corridor' between 100-200 nautical miles off South China Sea littoral states' mainlands. This would include most of the hot button areas of dispute.
China's 'nine dotted line' generally (but ambiguously) includes all South China Sea ocean areas lying more than 100 nautical miles off littoral states. Vietnam and the Philippines claim, for the most part, minimum exclusive economic zones stretching 200 nautical miles from their mainland coastlines.
The above ribbon idea ignores territorial claims emanating from the Paracel, Spratly and other small South China Sea islands and rock clusters. Leaving these claims results in a large, residually-contested central area of the South China sea.
However, nearly all of that central area lies in very deep water. That renders it less attractive over the near- to medium-term for energy development.
Within the 100 nautical mile wide ribbon, oil and gas development rights would be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Proceeds would be used to build an open-access, common-carrier pipeline infrastructure connecting the offshore fields to market.
One topology could stretch from Philippine Luzon and Palawan down through Indonesia's Natuna islands and up along the coast of Vietnam en route to China's Hainan island and onward to Hong Kong.
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