Counting the Cost

The scramble for the South China Sea

As China tries to outmuscle its neighbours, we ask who will win the battle over the resource-rich waters.

Everyone wants a piece of the South China Sea, a strategically important and resource-rich area in Asia. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia claim some sort of ownership in a different shape or form.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, on the basis of lines on Chinese maps published in the 1940s and locking it into disputes with several Southeast Asian neighbours.

On the face of it, it looks like China is trying to annex the area. It is building new artificial islands in an area known as the Spratlys – a move which has been seen as an attempt to assert its territorial claims by establishing physical facts in the water.

China’s island-building in the Spratlys is even drawing in the United States. Washington plans to send US ships and planes to within 20km of the new island, which, significantly, has a huge aviation runway. 

The US Energy Information Agency reckons there could be around 11bn barrels of oil and 190tn cubic feet of natural gas there and that is not even the entire area. The Chinese National Offshore Oil Company puts the number at 125bn barrels of oil and 500tn cubic feet in undiscovered resources.

So what are the economics behind the South China Sea dispute? Who owns the world’s busiest shipping lane and what lies below the surface that is causing growing tensions? 

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown looks at the Chinese perspective on the South China Sea crisis from Beijing.

We also hear from the Philippines, as our correspondent Jamela Alindogan was given rare access to one of the disputed islands. She spoke to the country’s Defence Ministry Spokesman, Dr Peter Galvez, and asked him about what the Philippines stands to lose from the current South China Sea dispute.

Natural gas: Russia’s bargaining chip

Natural gas has almost become a foreign policy weapon for Russia, and more specifically for President Vladimir Putin. But the view from Brussels seems to indicate that the EU has had enough of Russia’s state-controlled gas company Gazprom and its monopoly in Europe.

Back in 2006, Gazprom actually shut down gas supplies to Ukraine as it tried to secure access to Black Sea ports. And the threat of turning the taps off again has been there ever since.

Europe and Russia need each other when it comes to energy. Thirty percent of Europe’s gas supplies come from Russia and a lot of that goes through Ukraine, which is why that country is so important.

Russia needs Europe to buy gas because 70 percent of its exports are energy-related and the Russian economy is on the brink of recession.
But while Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban, who is a friend of Russia, gets gas from Gazprom at $260 per thousand cubic meters, Poland pays almost double, $526, which is the highest price paid in the EU for gas.

So why does the EU now seem emboldened enough to go after Gazprom with this anti-trust case? Are Gazprom and energy being used as a foreign policy weapon by Putin?

Joining us from Brussels to talk about the issue is Marco Giuli, an analyst at the European Policy Center.

Student debt: The cause of the next global crisis? 

Student loans are a personal problem all over the world, but they are getting to the point of being much bigger than that.
The US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says Americans owe a $1tn in student loans which makes you wonder about how much pressure that could one day put on the financial system. 

How can Americans beat the student loan system?

John Hendren reports from Chicago.