Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Freight and Shipping Interests Should be Worried by Dangerous Container Routes

Heightened Asian Tensions In More than Japan and China
Shipping News Feature

CHINA - JAPAN - TAIWAN - KOREA - VIETNAM - WORLDWIDE - Everyone in the logistics field is aware of the threat posed by the pirate gangs who roam the Indian Ocean and various other crime hotspots around the globe. Such attacks are minimised by the use of Best Management Practices and the increasing use of armed security aboard the larger merchant vessels. There is however growing concern amongst the entire shipping fraternity over what may prove to be a much more dangerous threat with the heightening of political tensions in certain areas of the world which are also home to some of the most crucial arterial freight routes. Whilst tankers regularly ply the Straits of Hormuz and everyone in the rest of the world is concerned over the disintegration of relations with Iran, other main container routes are also under an ever increasing threat, once again with a link to energy and food supplies.

The war which occurred between Britain and Argentina in 1982 and where relationship problems still persist demonstrates how two formerly friendly nations can fall out if the political, economic and geographical factors are not in harmony and similarly the rich resources which exist in the coastal waters of the East China Sea are making long disputed ground a matter of extreme concern.

These areas were contentious enough when land or fish were the main target but with the voracious hunt for energy, plus the greater share of marine real estate the owners can lay claim to, the waters between Shanghai, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean peninsula are now witness to growing hostilities particularly as Sino Japanese relations slump following the Japanese purchase of three uninhabited but disputed islands in the region from a bloc of five which it has previously leased from a Japanese family.

The islands concerned (Senkaku, Tiaoyutai, Diàoyúdǎo or Pinnacle depending who you talk to) have been in Japanese hands since the 1890’s but are mentioned on numerous Chinese and Japanese maps since the 14th Century. The group is also claimed by Taiwan and the US is desperate to see a resolution to the crisis as it was that nation which handed the islands back to Japan following World War Two when they were subject to American invasion. The sole reason the Japanese, who have steadfastly resisted development on the islands, moved to purchase them was apparently to head off a bid from the Governor of Tokyo who wanted to pursue that course.

Today is the 81st anniversary of the Manchurian (or Mukden or Liutiaohu) incident when the Japanese falsified an attack on their property as an excuse to invade Manchuria, an action still remembered in China and often referred to as an example of Japanese duplicity there. Today saw near riots in parts of China with attacks on businesses, something the Chinese Government facing leadership changes could do without yet to which it has tacitly encouraged by its lack of condemnation. Japanese products, particularly cars, are a favourite of wealthier Chinese and the state wants to see cooperation which includes production and assembly on their territory yet today car showrooms and production plants were shut along with Japanese restaurants after the news that a couple of right wing Japanese had landed on the islands. This follows a similar landing by Chinese protestors a few days ago plus the despatch of naval forces and gives one an eerily similar reminder of the commencement of the Falklands/Malvinas dispute thirty years ago.

Meanwhile in the neighbouring South China Sea Vietnam continues to build up a considerable military force with a shopping list which includes six Kilo class submarines, the first due to arrive later this year, and a variety of cutting edge military aircraft,an immensely powerful armoury for a comparatively small country, whilst still contesting ownership of the Paracel Islands, again with the Chinese, as reported in our story in 2009 plus some of the 45 occupied, and 700 plus uninhabited, islands which make up the Spratly chain, a region, where everyone from the Philippines and Malaysia to Taiwan, the PRC and even Brunei, seems to be quite literally staking a claim, which we wrote about in April.

These offshore disputes also exist just further North in the Sea of Japan with permanent military tension between the two halves of Korea whilst the interminable talk of a Japanese/Korean undersea tunnel usually falters when ownership of the Liancourt Rocks or Dokdo/Takeshima islets which have been in South Korean hands since the 1950’s but are claimed by both the North and Japan, are mentioned.

These relatively small regions which see a vast amount of the worlds freight passing daily with columns of container ships and bulk carriers criss crossing between the neighbouring Asian nations and transiting to and fro to the US, Europe and the rest of the world are seeing a heightening of political unrest as economies come under pressure and populations increase and without sensible political action may yet prove to be the most devastating factor for world trade if only by taking attention away from potentially more serious problems in other regions.

Photo:- The waters of the South China Sea are hazardous enough without the potential for military action. The wreck of the Igara which foundered off the Mendarik Islands in March 1973.