Geopolitik Energi

April 12, 2007


Energy Security and Southeast Asia: The Impact on Maritime Boundary and Territorial Disputes


Volume IX, No. 4. Fall 2005

Written by Dr Clive Schofield and Dr Ian Storey

Malaysia and Indonesia became embroiled in a war of words over a potentially oil-rich maritime zone off Borneo in March 2005: the Ambalat offshore area. Both sides rushed forces to the disputed area, leading to fears over a potential conflict. Meanwhile, rising oil prices have pushed three disputants in the South China Sea – namely China, the Philippines, and Vietnam – to agree to joint seismic studies in the area, indicating a potential breakthrough in the dispute. The objective of this article is to examine the genesis of the dispute over Ambalat, assess its underlying causes, explore the parties’ competing national maritime jurisdictional claims and address prospects for its resolution. In this context, a brief analysis of the International Court of Justice’s 2002 award of the Sipadan and Ligitan Islands to Malaysia is included. These developments will then be compared and contrasted with recent events in the South China Sea. In particular, the energy security concerns that underpin renewed interest in maritime Southeast Asia will be assessed.

Dr Clive Schofield is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Maritime Policy, University of Wollongong, Australia. He specializes in research on the delimitation of international maritime boundaries and related oceans policy.

Dr Ian Storey is an Assistant Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), Honolulu, Hawaii. He specializes in Southeast Asian security issues. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the APCSS, U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Over the past several years, rising global oil prices have focused attention on the issue of energy security – the need for countries to ensure continued access to energy resources, especially oil and gas, both at home and abroad. Nowhere is this concern more acute than in the Asia-Pacific region, home to some of the fastest growing but energy-resource poor countries in the world. Indeed, this is part of the reason why oil prices have risen so quickly: demand for crude oil from China, and increasingly India, has helped push oil prices to record highs. China’s oil consumption rose by 15.8 percent in 2004 alone and shows no sign of slackening.1 For example, Chinese demand for motor vehicles rose by 56 percent in 2002 and a staggering 75 percent in 2003, yet ownership levels stand at only around eight cars per 1,000 people as compared with the global average of 120.2 China, a net oil importer since 1993, is now the second largest consumer of oil after the United States. China’s imports of crude oil have risen from 20 million tons in 1996 to 122 million tons in 2004. Future growth predictions vary, but all show spiraling demand: conservative estimates put the PRC’s crude oil imports at 150 million tons by 2010 and 250-300 million tons by 2020.

In this context, exploration for seabed hydrocarbon resources is often seen as a key way to reduce supply uncertainty, a fact which gives maritime jurisdictional disputes an energy security dimension. Energy security concerns have also translated into increased concern over access to and control over key sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). Additionally, concerned states are reacting to the energy security challenge by taking measures to reduce their dependence through conservation measures and diversification to alternative energy sources. There have also been moves to establish energy stockpiles as a means to limit the impact of possible interruptions to supply.

Gaining access to energy resources can engender both competition and cooperation among states. Many security analysts believe that competition is the norm, and that enhancing energy security is a zero sum game – every barrel of oil that one country acquires is one less for another. There have been several prominent examples of this phenomenon in the Asia-Pacific of late. China and Japan have been actively courting Russia in an effort to tap into its vast oil reserves located in eastern Siberia, a competition Beijing seems to have won. More serious tensions between China and Japan are brewing in the East China Sea, over access to natural gas. Nevertheless, the exploitation of energy resources can also foster cooperation among states.3

This article examines how energy security concerns have impacted maritime boundary and territorial disputes in Southeast Asia. Two case studies are examined. The first involves overlapping maritime boundary claims between Indonesia and Malaysia over Ambalat off the east coast of Borneo. The second examines recent developments in the long-running South China Sea dispute and, in particular, a recent agreement among China, the Philippines, and Vietnam to conduct joint scientific studies as a first step toward ascertaining hydrocarbon deposits in the disputed waters of the Spratly Islands. The first case study highlights competition between states, the second cooperation. However, as each study demonstrates, energy security is but one driver of the region’s complex territorial disputes.


  1. Bung,

    Bagus euy blognya…
    Kebetulan saya juga tertarik dengan isu-isu hubungan internasional dan internasional politik.
    Coba dong, ulas teori politik internasional punya Kenneth Waltz

    Comment by sholi — August 31, 2007 @ 10:22 am | Reply

  2. bagus…tpi bahasa inggrisnya itu loh,, pegel bacanya!!

    Comment by indah — April 16, 2008 @ 6:08 am | Reply

  3. fuck bgt malaysia

    Comment by wahyi — March 19, 2009 @ 8:05 am | Reply

  4. Outstanding article!! Will come back soon.

    Comment by DescuemDerb — May 20, 2009 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  5. Hancurkan malaysia, fuck jöngos britis.

    Comment by Merah putih — June 4, 2009 @ 5:18 am | Reply

  6. Sdh taon 2009, Malay’sin’ masih aj nyolek2 Ambalat,Ooi..INA tegaz dong… Gayang Malaysia…:-(

    Comment by Nieki — June 4, 2009 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  7. malaysialan anjiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggnnngggg

    Comment by cata — June 13, 2009 @ 7:58 am | Reply

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