Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pacific Fisheries' Futile Conflict: How about sharing?

In much of the 20th century, conflict and war centered on oil resources and the Middle East. Will the 21st century see conflict and war center on fisheries, particularly in the Pacific?

The UN International Day for Peace 2016 has been tied to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Life Below Water is goal #14. With Barack Obama visiting Asia, and the G7 meeting in Japan, it's a good time to see how Life Below Water ties to issues of war and peace.

I was intrigued by an op-ed by outgoing Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou in the Wall Street Journal.  It was a closely argued piece on the appropriate way to observe (and adjudicate) economic rights in the Pacific. (See "Taiwan's Stake in the Western Pacific") This was Ma's swan song -- it appeared on the eve of his retirement from the presidency, and the (historic) swearing in of the Taiwan's new (woman) president.

I know that these ocean rights are important. But really? Why ask people to consider a point-by-point analysis of the respective merits of Taiping Island and Okinotori Reef claims by Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan?

I've lived in Taiwan. I knew there were a lot of fish in Taiwan.
I just never stopped to think about where the fish came from.
It made me stop and think: Ma felt this was the most important topic to talk about as he walked out the door. In effect, Ma was saying: Hey! Pay attention to these fishing rights! They will be the most important thing of all to us in the years to come!

(N.B.: not "the Mainland"!)

Consider: "Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein." (See Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources) Won't that percentage grow steadily as more and more people turn away from beef, pork, and other land-based and farmed sources of animal protein?

So this is causing me to think differently about a topic I've written about before: the growing tensions in the South China Sea. In a previous post, I emphasized oil and gas rights there, and wrote: "[A]ren't the assets that lie under the South China Sea precisely the kind of oil and gas properties that are rapidly becoming valueless in light of the carbon bubble?  Given that the oil companies already have five times as many reserves as they can ever put to use without breaking the planet, aren't those South China Sea hydrocarbons destined to stay beneath the sea where they belong?" (See SOUTH CHINA SEA FACE OFF: Does this make ANY sense?)

Now I'm waking up.

"It's the fish, stupid." 

It's not just a question of one country or another being entitled. It's a question of how we are going to share this . . . and how we're going to make sure we don't mess it up.

Red indicates extreme over-fishing. (Source: Trashpatch.org interactive map)

A good place to start is to examine UNCLOS -- the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It "defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources."  It is the authority that nations are referring to in dealing with the current conflicts in the South China Sea, for instance.

The US has refused to ratify UNCLOS and so stands outside of it. Perhaps it's time for the world to tell the US that to come to the table and participate in the conversation about the future of life below water as an equal partner with the other nations of the world. And to leave their warships at home.

Related posts

It will benefit us antiwar activists in the US to attend to and reflect upon the importance of these Sustainable Development Goals to achieving the goal of ending war.

(See PEACE DAY 2016: What comes first? Demilitarization? or Development?)

What people in Asia (and others) have seen for the past century is that something is happening in the Pacific, and it's being driven in part by advances in naval (and, subsequently, aviation and electronics) technology, and in part by powerful nations (principally, but not limited to, the U.S.) proximate to the area.

(See The Imperialized Pacific: What We Need to Understand)

As I read the Chinese language paper every day, it is clear to me that -- in the absence of sustained civic discourse on the security issues in the Pacific region -- our future is being shaped by military posturing.

(See SOUTH CHINA SEA FACE OFF: Does this make ANY sense?)

My hope and belief is that a Berkeley forum on peace and prosperity in the Pacific would reveal a shared interest in de-escalating the South China Sea confrontation, and dramatically increase awareness of shared Pacific prospects for well-being.

(See 21st c. Berkeley: More Relevant Than Ever to Antiwar Movement)