Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
China Strengthening Claim To South China Sea
Oil And Gas
By Colin Chilcoat
Oil Price, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, November 27, 2014
Not gone and not forgotten, China is ready to solidify its claim to
the South China Sea (SCS). Recent satellite imagery
confirms China is conducting significant land reclamation operations in
the Spratly Islands in the SCS. The SCS is an important fishing ground and
is believed to hold large amounts of oil and gas. Undermining the United
States' influence in the region, China intends to play the shepherd in one
of the world's busiest trade routes.
The Spratly Islands along with
the Paracel Islands and several maritime boundaries in the SCS have been
hotly disputed for several centuries. The conflict includes Brunei, China,
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam and has
predominantly centered on historical and cultural claims. Though offering
very little in the way of land or resources, the islands serve as a tangible
marker. As such, parties to the conflict have been quick to occupy them.
China's most recent
undertaking in the Spratly island chain is not their first – the last 18
months have already seen three reclamation projects. However, at more than
3,000 meters and counting Fiery Cross Reef is their grandest venture yet and
appears destined to house an airstrip and harbor, both capable of supporting
military hardware. The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam already
operate airstrips in the Spratlys, but can only support smaller,
As it pursues expansion, China has been
hesitant to engage in multilateral negotiations and meaningful dialogue
on the SCS was relegated to the sidelines at the recent APEC and ASEAN
summits. Instead, China – demanding an in-house solution to the convoluted
matter – is content to flex its superior political and military might to
limited opposition. Reluctant to step on any toes and with its feet in
multiple courts, the United States is short on political recourse, and
that's how China likes it.
Though China's aims are long-term,
control of the Spratlies and Paracels is not subsidiary to any prize that
may lie beneath. Chinese President Xi Jinping's "Asian security concept"
calls for Asian solutions to Asian problems and seeks to limit Western
influence in such "domestic" affairs. Unchecked dominance in the SCS,
whether through direct force or intimidation, would be a remarkable victory
in this regard.
And to the victor go the spoils, which in this case
are still pretty unclear, a side effect of the conflict itself. The Energy
the SCS holds approximately 11 billion barrels (bbl) of oil and 190 trillion
cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. That estimate jumps to as much as 22 bbl of
oil and 290 Tcf of natural gas according to a U.S. Geological Survey study.
Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) is perhaps the most optimistic
and estimates undiscovered resources of oil and gas in the SCS total 125 bbl
and 500 Tcf respectively.
To date, the SCS nations have been
relatively successful drilling in their near-offshore waters. Malaysia and
Thailand for example, have
Joint Development Agreements to expedite production without addressing
territorial disputes. For its part, China has largely played the
provocateur. In 2011 and 2012, China offered a slew of oil and gas blocks to
foreign bidders; the blocks – in contested waters – received no bids. More
recently in May, China
its new deepwater drilling rig within Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone
setting off a series of violent protests in Vietnam.
today's low commodity prices, the SCS is a tough sell for Western majors
unwilling to take sides. Shell and ExxonMobil have been the most active in
conflict-free waters and any multilateral resolution favors their size and
deepwater drilling experience.
Despite the uncertainty of the
resources below the surface, there is quantifiable wealth above.
Approximately 14 million barrels of crude oil and over half of the global
pass through the SCS daily. In all, $5.3 trillion in total trade
moves annually through the SCS. With an aim to
control no less than 80 percent of the sea, China may soon be able to
impose its will on global trade patterns.
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