Sat, 29 Oct 1994

Solution still far on Spratlys

BUKITTINGGI, West Sumatra (JP): An end to the decades-long disputes over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea remains a remote hope requiring great patience and effort to bring about.

An expert predicted yesterday that a long road lay ahead because the concerned parties are only now beginning to learn to cooperate among each other.

"There are so many factors involved in the issue, especially when it comes to the issue of confidence building measures," Hasjim Djalal, a resource person at the fifth workshop on managing potential conflicts in the South China Sea, said here yesterday.

Speaking at a press conference after the closing of the five- day workshop, he pointed out that disagreements still linger as to whether the issue of the Spratlys and Paracels should be incorporated and resolved in the workshop, or whether it should be broadened to cover a wider scope of "territorial disputes and claims".

"In the previous workshops, the disputes and claims over the Spratlys and Paracels were clearly included in the talks, but now some participants want to drop the issue, while others are fighting to keep it in," he said.

Thus, up to the end of the workshop, no consensus had been reached as to whether the issue would be limited to the two archipelagos.

Hasjim, who is also Indonesia's Ambassador-at-Large for Law of the Sea, explained that disagreements lingered not only in defining the area of the dispute, but also on the first topic of the Confidence Building Measures, which involve the non-expansion of the existing military presence in the region.

He explained that while the majority of participants supported the need of non-expansion of the existing military presence and agreed to its significance, some had difficulty in expressing their views, and others believed it was unnecessary to adopt any of these measures for the time being.

"One of the reasons there are so many problems in the South China Sea is that the participants have no experience in cooperating. Their past experiences with each other are all confrontations," Hasjim pointed out.

This is unlike the case of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which have some 27 years of experience in cooperating. (pwn)