OPPORTUNITY TO NEGOTIATE WITH CHINA
There are also domestic pressures brewing within China. The ongoing property crunch and demographic ageing have significantly weakened domestic growth, leading to greater Chinese dependency on global markets. Adding to this is the growing risk of confrontation with the United States, coupled with looming global economic and possible financial crises.
There are signs of a softening Chinese stance in global diplomacy. The recent shift in personnel from “wolf warrior” foreign minister Wang Yi and spokesperson Zhao Lijian to the more US-friendly Qin Gang and Wang Wenbin could signal China is ready to negotiate more favourable terms with claimant states.
Indonesia and other claimant states should use this opportunity to their advantage.
They should set measurable goals, such as reducing incursions by Chinese vessels into their respective exclusive economic zones, and then focus all tools on achieving those goals. They should also aim to increase the transparency of deals between member states and China, including the Belt and Road Initiative projects, where China has significant leverage.
Another possible move to increase legitimacy and access natural resource deposits would be to invite Chinese oil and gas companies or other foreign companies to operate in the disputed seas with claimant states still holding majority ownership. China could then build a network of pipelines and infrastructure connecting new explorations to its industrial cities, ensuring its supply of energy but also ensuring buyers from claimant states.
Although it may take some time to implement, sharing the resources of the seas is better than the alternative in the midst of a worsening energy crisis.
Suryaputra Wijaksana is an economist at a leading Indonesian bank. This commentary first appeared on Lowy Institute’s blog The Interpreter.