Anambas Expedition: Diplomacy through Scientific Mission

Written by Aris Heru UtomoFree Image Hosting at allyoucanupload.com 

In the 1990’s, political tension in the South China Sea was high. The dispute territorial claims in the South China Sea remain a dangerous source of potential conflict in the absence of preventive measures to forestall a military or political crisis. Six claimant countries, Brunei Darussalam, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam, have claims in this region and some of them have sent their military force to the region.

Considering this political situation, in 1990 Indonesia convened a first workshop to manage potential conflicts in the South China Sea. Regardless of the territorial disputes, Indonesia tried to find out ways to manage potential conflict and to find an area or areas in which everyone could agree to co-operate, no matter how small or how insignificant it might seem to be.

The First Workshop in Bali in 1990 was specifically and exclusively attended by ASEAN participants so that they could lay down the groundwork. But in the Second Workshop in Bandung in 1991 it had become a very “inclusive” group; not only Vietnam and China were invited but also Taiwan. Even land-locked Laos was also invited. Cambodia was invited later after the political situation there became clearer.

After a series of meetings, finally the participants agreed to conduct a join research on biodiversity in 2002. The first joint research was in March 2002, scientists from the South China Sea region conducted a major biodiversity expedition, called Anambas expedition, to the waters of the Anambas and Natuna Islands in Indonesia. The two-week expedition obtained over 3.000 specimens representing a large diversity of plant and animal species. Many were new records for the area, and some were new to science.

The expedition itself turned out to be more than a scientific mission. Not only was Exercise Anambas a trip to explore biodiversity, it also served a political purpose, to promote regional scientific collaboration among countries surrounding the South China Sea. The expedition made history, as it was the first that got scientists from different countries of the South China Sea working together.

Indonesian efforts in conducting the workshop appreciated by ASEAN. In the 25th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila in July 1992, ASEAN Ministers noted that the workshop on managing potential conflicts in the South China Sea initiated and hosted by Indonesia had contributed to a better understanding of the issues involved. The success of the joint research shown the successfull of second track diplomacy by scientist. It shown that in instance of conflict there was always an opportunity for co-operation.

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