India put aside a 40-year territorial dispute with its neighbor Bangladesh this month when it agreed to abide by a maritime boundary line set by a UN tribunal. Bloomberg reports:
“This is a showcase judgment of how countries can reach an amicable agreement,” said S. Chandrasekharan, New Delhi-based director of the South Asia Analysis Group, referring to India and Bangladesh. “The South China Sea is a glaring example of how one intransigent country can hold up everything.”
Sunshine and rainbows in the Bay of Bengal, right? Well, there is a much more pragmatic reason for India ceding this territory: oil. Bloomberg continues:
The cooperation has opened up access to energy exploration for India and Bangladesh, which now account for less than 1 percent of the world’s proven gas reserves, according to estimates by BP Plc. By year’s end, Bangladesh plans to auction 18 oil and gas blocks in the Bay of Bengal, including 10 previously claimed by India, according to Hossain Mansur, chairman of state-run Petrobangla.“It’s now a big opportunity for us to explore sea blocks for oil and gas without disruptions,” Mansur said by phone from Dhaka on July 23.
It stands to reason that more defined boundaries will make it easier for oil and gas firms to ply their trade—calmer waters, so to speak, will make for smoother sailing. Both countries, therefore, hope to gain from the territorial compromise.And it’s hard to avoid the comparisons between the settlement of this dispute and the distinctly more pugnacious approaches other Asian countries—China, especially—have taken to maritime boundary conflicts. The South China Sea is estimated to hold some 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but disputes over who has access to what stretch of sea territory have slowed down efforts to access these underwater hydrocarbons, and inflamed regional relations to dangerous levels.We won’t hold our breath waiting for Beijing to follow New Delhi’s lead and play nice, but it’s worth taking a breath here to see that positive-sum outcomes are possible in these kinds of stand-offs. And ultimately, China’s zero-sum approach is doing itself no favors in the region.