Geopolitik Energi

April 12, 2007



These disputes highlight enduring regional sensitivities regarding boundary and sovereignty issues, as well as heightened concerns over energy security. Maritime boundary demarcation lines define the limits of jurisdiction over valuable offshore areas and thus ownership of key resources – a crucial consideration in the context of high oil prices and energy security vulnerabilities.

It is worth observing, however, that energy security is only one factor. International boundaries have great psychological and political significance. States regard their international boundaries as representing their territorial integrity and sovereignty, and therefore view their borders as a crucial ingredient in their continuing legitimacy. This fact partly explains the vigorous reaction by states to seemingly innocuous border incidents – as demonstrated in the Ambalat case, where two ostensibly friendly neighbors and ASEAN partners have proved willing to deploy their armed forces to confront one another in order to safeguard themselves against perceived threats to their territorial integrity and rights to key resources. This scenario has long been the norm in the considerably more complex South China Sea environment.

In maritime boundary disputes, the lure of potential access to seabed oil and gas resources often plays a dual role. On the positive side, it can be a motivating factor, prompting a desire to resolve the dispute swiftly so that exploration can proceed as soon as possible, especially when oil prices are high. On the other hand, the possible presence of such resources can serve as an impediment to dispute resolution, since often neither side is willing to concede what it regards as its own legitimate rights; there are concerns that if a compromise boundary line were drawn through the zone of overlapping claims, the bulk of the resources at stake could end up on the ‘wrong’ side of the line – a consideration which provides a strong motivation to enter joint development.

Progress appears to have been made with regard to the Ambalat dispute. But in the South China Sea, still caution is advisable; it remains to be seen whether the new tripartite agreement to jointly explore offshore resources in disputed waters signifies that, at last, the political will exists to shelve the sovereignty claims and proceed with joint development. The early signs are, however, remarkably positive.

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FACTBOX-Disputed maritime oil and gas areas in Asia


  1. BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2005, p.9.
  2. “Dream Machines”, The Economist, 4 June 2005, pp. 23-4.
  3. Clive Schofield, “Dividing the Resources of the Timor Sea: A matter of life and death for East Timor”, Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol.27, No.2 (August 2005), pp. 255-280.
  4. Victor Prescott and Clive Schofield, The Maritime Political Boundaries of the World, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden/Boston, 2005, pp.217-218.
  5. United Nations, The Law of the Sea, United Nations, New York, 1983 (hereinafter, LOSC). It has been calculated that national claim to maritime jurisdiction could encompass as much as 49.5% of the world ocean, should every coastal State make maximum possible claims. See: Prescott and Schofield, 2005, pp.8 and 30.
  6. LOSC, Article 15.
  7. LOSC, Article 74 and 83.
  8. “Indonesia Protests Malaysia’s Oil Pacts”, Associated Press, 25 February 2005.
  9. “Areas in Sulawesi Sea within Malaysia’s borders”, Malaysia Star, 2 March 2005.
  10. “Air Force sends four F-16s to Ambalat”, Tempo, 7 March 2005.
  11. “Malaysia to talk to Indonesia over oil dispute”, Reuters, 3 March 2005.
  12. Bill Guerin, “Sulawesi Sea row dredges up defenses”, Asia Times Online, 9 March 2005.
  13. “Indonesian President meets Malaysian FM”, Xinhuanet, 11 March 2005.
  14. “RI, KL warships collide in Ambalat”, The Jakarta Post, 10, April 2005.
  15. “Maritime Dispute with Indonesia”, Straits Times, 12 April 2005.
  16. “Malaysia military to continue patrols in disputes oil concession areas”, Xinhua News Agency, 3 March 2005; “Indonesian warships sail into sea dispute”, Reuters, 3 March 2005; “KL tells navy to show restraint after incident”, Straits Times, 12 April 2005.
  17. “BP Migas questioned role over Ambalat”, Jakarta Post, 17 March 2005; and, “Eni finds oil in area claimed by Indonesia, Malaysia”, Jakarta Post, 18 March 2005.
  18. Very large crude carriers (VLCCs) of over 250,000dwt favour the Lombok/Makassar route because of depth and draft considerations. The Malacca Strait has a least depth of around 25m and International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules relating to the Malacca and Singapore Straits require under keel clearance of 3.5m. Most VLCCs, when fully laden, will fall outside these draft restrictions. See: Sam Bateman, “Sea Lane Security”, Maritime Studies, No.128, January-February 2003, pp.19-20.
  19. See, for example, “President told to take stern action against Malaysia”, Jakarta Post, 9 March 2005.
  20. See, for example, Dandhy Dwi Laksono, “Crush Malaysia, whose agenda?”, Jakarta Post, 21 March 2005.
  21. See, for example, Kalinga Seneviratne, “From gunboat diplomacy to talks over an island”, Asia Times Online, 18 March 2005, and “Indonesia tests ties with ‘arrogant’ neighbor”, Asia Times Online, 19 March 2005.
  22. For example, Malaysian Foreign Minister Albar stated on 10 March that the dispute was being blown out of proportion by the Indonesian media who had “initiated a tremendous raising of feelings” that was “not beneficial”. Quoted in “Rabid nationalism may scuttle diplomacy”,, 10 March 2005.
  23. Quoted in Prescott and Schofield, 2005, p.246.
  24. See, for example, “Navy prepares force for Ambalat”, Tempo, 7 March 2005; “Rabid nationalism may scuttle diplomacy”,, 10 March 2005; and, Kalinga Seneviratne, “From gunboat diplomacy to talks over an island”, Asia Times Online, 18 March 2005. However, see later comment re: Takat Unarang.
  25. Director of National Mapping Malaysia, Map showing territorial waters and continental shelf boundaries of Malaysia, Sheet 2, Mercator projection, scale 1:1.5 million at 5°30’ N. Kuala Lumpur, 1979. See also, Renate Haller-Trost, The Contested Maritime and Territorial Boundaries of Malaysia, Kluwer Law International, London, 1998, pp.7-8 and 13-22.
  26. For analysis of the land boundary see J.R.V.Prescott, H.J.Collier and D.F.Prescott, Frontiers of Asia and Southeast Asia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1977, p.90.
  27. See Sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia), ICJ website.
  28. LOSC, Article 121(1) provides that “An island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide”, while Article 121(3) states that, “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf”.
  29. For more background detail on this issue see, for example, Schofield, “Dividing the Resources of the Timor Sea: A matter of life and death for East Timor”, 2005, pp. 255-280.
  30. Richel Langit, “Indonesia: Islands in the storm”, Asia Times, 21 December 2002.
  31. “Indonesia to continue lighthouse construction in disputed area”, Xinhuanet, 14 March 2005,
  32. As previously noted, there is no “Ambalat Island”. Takat [Rock] Unarang is the nearest thing to land territory at stake in the dispute. However, this feature is, at best, a low-tide elevation rather than even a rock, let alone an island within the meaning of Article 121 of the LOSC. If this is the case, given its position 10nm from Indonesia’s low-water line or ‘normal’ baselines and 12nm from the nearest point on Malaysia’s, only the former is in a position to use Takat Unarang as a basepoint, in line with Article 13 of the LOSC dealing with low-tide elevations, and even then only for a claim to a 12nm territorial sea. However, there are also reports that Takat Unarang is no more than a submerged rock and therefore not a valid basepoint for generating maritime claims to jurisdiction. See Prescott and Schofield, 2005, p.451-452.
  33. Bill Guerin, “Sulawesi Sea row dredges up defenses”, Asia Times Online, 9 March 2005; and, “Border dispute to be settled amicably: President”, Jakarta Post, 7 March 2005.
  34. “Indonesia, Malaysia pledge peaceful end to territorial row”, Channel News Asia, 9 March 2005.
  35. “Ambalat talks held out of public view”, The Jakarta Post, 23 March 2005.
  36. Indonesia Teruskan Perundingan Soal Ambalat”, Suara Karya, 8 November 2005 [in Bahasa Indonesia].
  37. Suara Pembaruan Daily, 15 October 2005 [in Bahasa Indonesia]. The authors wish to thank Andi Arsana of the School of Surveying and Spatial Information at the University of New South Wales, Australia, for his assistance with translations from Bahasa Indonesia.
  38. Bill Guerin, “Sulawesi Sea row dredges up defenses”, Asia Times Online, 9 March 2005.
  39. “Ambalat Issue has no effect on M’sia-RI Trade Relations”, Antara, 23 March 2005.
  40. Clive Schofield and Andi Arsana, “Ambalat revised: The way forward?”, Jakarta Post, 9 June 2005.
  41. Suara Pembaruan Daily, 15 October 2005 [in Bahasa Indonesia].
  42. Ian Storey, “China seeks to reduce its dependence on Strait of Malacca”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, May 2005.
  43. “Soaring price of oil poses a security threat in RP”, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 16 August 2005.
  44. Membership of ASEAN includes Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  45. Daniel J. Dzurek, The Spratly Islands Dispute: Who’s On First?, International Boundaries Research Unit Maritime Briefing, Vol.2, No.1, 1996, p.1.
  46. This document can be seen here
  47. For a longer account of the Mischief Reef Incident see Ian Storey, “Creeping Assertiveness: China, the Philippines, and the South China Sea Dispute”, Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 21, no. 1 (April 1999), pp. 95-118.
  48. This document can be seen here
  49. These two documents can be seen here and here
  50. “Vietnam condemns Taiwan over Spratlys construction”, Agence France Presse, Hong Kong, 31 March 2004.
  51. See “60 Viet tourists visit to Spratlys raises furor”, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 20 April 2004.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Vietnam rebuilds Spratly airport”, BBC website, 14 May 2004.
  54. “RP won’t block oil searches in Spratlys”, Today, 23 August 2004.
  55. “Philippines, China to study potential oil deposits in South China Sea”, Agence France Presse, Hong Kong, 2 September 2004.
  56. Interview with senior official in the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, August 2005.
  57. Ralf Emmers, Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea: Strategic and Diplomatic Status Quo, Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies (IISS) Working Paper No. 87, September 2005.
  58. See Lyle Goldstein and William Murray, “China emerges as a maritime power”, Jane’s Intelligence Review, October 2004.
  59. “Three nations sign pact for joint Spratlys survey”, Straits Times, 15 March 2005.
  60. “Turning ‘sea of disputes’ into ‘sea of cooperation’”, People’s Daily, 16 March 2005.
  61. Interview with senior official in the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, August 2005.
  62. “China, the Philippines and Vietnam work on disputed South China Sea”, Xinhua News Agency, 26 August 2005. For a technical explanation of the evolution of seismic technology and the distinctions between 2D, 3D and 4D seismic survey techniques see the Society of Petroleum Engineers website.
  63. “More on the PRC, Philippines, Vietnam sign joint South China Sea oil accord”, Agence France Presse.
  64. “All-win rational choice”, People’s Daily, 18 March 2005.
  65. Interview with senior official in the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, August 2005.


  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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