SOUTHEAST ASIA WATER & LAND (Claim Territorial Water Illustration)

In region of peninsulas and island such as southeast Asia, the surrounding and intervening water are of extraordinary significance. They may afford more effective mean of contact than the land it self , as trade and migration routes they sustain internal as well as external circulation. On the other hand, the water between the individual island of a fragmented state also function as a divisive force. They are literally thousands of islands in Southeast Asia, and while some are productive and in effective maritime contact with other part of the region and the world, many of these islands and islets are comparatively isolated. Asia is not unique in the world, different from the peninsular character of Western Europe and the insular nature of Caribbean America. In all these area, people and government have an awareness oh the historic role of the sea. And every where, states that have coasts have extended their sovereignty over some of their adjacent waters. This is not a new principle; in Europe the concept that a state should own some coastal waters is centuries old. Initially these coastal claim-on a world scale-were quite modest. But as time went on, some states began to extend their territorial waters farther and farther out, and other countries followed suit. Since World War II, the situation has been complicated still further by the some times vast demand of newly independent, decolonized sates. Various United Nation sponsored conferences, called to seek a generally acceptable consensus among states as to just how wide a sovereign sea should be under international law, have failed to produce such an agreement.

In the course of time, numerous justifications have been advanced by the governments of states seeking to consolidate maritime claim. Among these have been the protection of domestic fishing fleets in coastal waters, the maintenance of neutrality and immunity during war time conditions, the right to apprehend smugglers in their approach to the coast, and the prevention of water pollution by waste-disposing vessels. In the recent years the continental shelf has attracted the interest of coastal states, for bellow the shallow coastal water lie potentially valuable mineral resources ; already, oil is pumped from fields located offshore. In places the continental shelf extends dozens of miles out beyond the coast, and of course the best way for a state to guarantee its primacy there is to claim the overlying water and all the exist bellow it.

These extensive claims of coastal states are not sanctioned under international law. But the fact is that the power of international law and jurisdiction remain very limited and depends, in effect, on the willingness of the states involved to subject them selves to such judgement. Even though there are rules concerning the delimitation of maritime boundaries, states actually can claim what they wish – so long as they have the power to back up their demands. And there are even some legal loopholes. For example, international conference have . stipulated the maximum width of bays and estuaries that may legally be closed to international use, yet states can circumvent these restrictions by laying claim to adjacent water under the justification that they have special, long-term national significance. Such water, then, are recognized as historic water. This was the chief basis for Indonesia’s announcement, late in 1957, that it would clame as national territory not only all waters within 12 miles of its island areas, but also all waters between the far-flung islands of the whole archipelago. It had the effect of including the entire Java Sea, Celebes Sea and Banda Sea in Indonesia, and it meant that sections of some of the world’s major shipping lanes now lay within Indonesian territorial waters. Early in 1958 the government of the Netherlands, then still in control of West New Guinea, tested Indonesia’s capacity to sustain this huge claim by announcing that it would not recognize the measure. Several factors lay behind Indonesia’s move, and the obstruction of Dutch shipping was only one of them ; the late 50’s was a difficult time for the Djawa-based government in its effort to hold the archipelago together as a single state, and there were fears that outside powers might assist secessionist movement.


There is no doubt about it : the seas and oceans and the subsoil bellow them represent a last frontier, and one with great productive potential. State are pushing outward into this last unclaimed part of the world’s surface, and the open high seas are subject now to steady encroachment. This situation is well illustrated in Southeast Asia, where in the late 1960’s neighboring states still claimed territorial waters of different widths. The three colonial powers which ruled on this realm all claimed three miles as the width of their territorial sea, but in 1969 only Malaysia still adhered to this practice. South Viet Nam claimed 12 miles, while North Viet Nam’s claim , though apparently never clearly stated, probably is similar, following the demand of China and the Soviet Union. Cambodia’s claim is 5 miles, and only one other country in the world (Uruguay) has adopted this width. Thailand has long claimed 6 miles ; Burma and the Philippiness have not announced permanent claims. The contras between Indonesia and the Philippiness in this context is noteworthy, for what become a major issue early in Indonesia’s existence as a sovereign state held little apparent interest in the other archipelago. Nor can this be readily explained on the basis of Indonesia’s designs on the Dutch-held section of New Guinea : the Philippine Government has also coveted external territory, notably the Sabah area of northern Kalimantan, held by Britain and now by Malaysia. A further problem relating to the territorial seas of the world’s states is just how the maritime boundaries are to be delimited and, if need be, demarcated (that is, visibly and permanently outlined by markers, as in done on land). This is not quite so simple a matter as might at first appear, if a state claims, say, 12 miles as the width of its territorial sea, is this 12 miles to be measured from a series of baseline along its coast ? And if so, how long may these baseline be ? How large are the bays and estuaries that maybe cut off by baselines ? Thailand for example, might with a single baseline cut off the whole northern end of Gulf of Siam ; Burma could do the same with the Gulf of Martaban. Various international conferences have addressed themselves to these problems, but no final and permanent solution have yet been found. Baselines have grown progressively longer and states desiring to do so can always cut off estuaries and bays on the ground that they are historic or strategic waters. As for the method of delimitation, a method has come into general use whereby the maritime boundary is delimited through a series of arcs drawn with a protractor , the radius is the width claimed and the result boundary is a coalescence of these arcs based on the coastline. This method makes triangulation from the sea quite easy, and even when the boundary is unmarked (undemarcated) its violation is not difficult to avoid. As many technological abilities have improved, the mineral potential of the continental shell has come within his reach. Oil is already taken in great quantities from under sea reserves, but other minerals also can be expected to lie in the subsoil. Southeast Asia’s Continental shelf is one of the largest such area in the world, and it may well become and area of exploration and competition.


  • (Source : Essentials of Geography- Region and Concept, Chpt 11, Southeast Asia Between The Giants (Harm J.Deblij, 1974, 329 - 350).
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