WASHINGTON — China regards oil and gas indispensable to its future economic wellbeing and its insatiable thirst for energy has injected a highly combustible new element into-long standing quarrels over disputed territories in the South China Sea, The Washington Post reported.
With consumption soaring and the price of imports rising, China is desperate for new sources to boost its proven energy reserves, which for oil now account for just 1.1 percent of the world total, a paltry share for a country that last year consumed 10.4 percent of total world oil production and 20.1 percent of all energy consumed on the planet, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
The potential for what lies beneath the sea is clearly a big motivator in China’s recent shift to a more pugnacious posture in the South China Sea, Adm. William Fallon, who headed the US Pacific Command from 2005 to 2007 before he retired, told the news-paper.
China is wary of pushing its claims to the point of serious armed conflict, which would torpedo the econo-mic growth on which the party has staked its survival. But, Fallon said, such a thick fog of secrecy surrounds China’s thinking that “we have little insight into what really makes them tick.”
A big factor in this uncertainty is a meshing of Chi-nese commercial, stra-tegic and mili-tary calculations, the Post reported on Sunday in a front-page article by Andrew Hig-gins datelined Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
The report comes on the eve of a visit to New York and Washington by President Aquino after his state visit to China.
Aquino and Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged to settle their nations’ rival claims peacefully through negotiation though it was unclear how talks should pro-ceed. Beijing wants to talk sepa-rately with each claimant while Manila and other smaller nations favor a regional settlement.
Since the start of the year Beijing has stiffened its resolve regarding its sove-reignty over its “blue soil” particularly in the disputed Spratly islands claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Philippines and Vietnam have reported increased Chinese aggressiveness in the area.
Like other giant energy companies in China, the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) pursues profit but is ultimately answerable to the party which appoints its boss.
Delivery of a new $1 billion high-tech rig in May to CNOOC was followed by Chinese reports it would start work at an unspecified location in the South China Sea.
CNOOC declined to comment on the whereabouts of its drilling platform- which allows China to drill in much deeper waters than before- and reconnaissance flights by the Philippines military have not yet picked up any sign of it, the Post said.
The newspaper said nobody yet really knows the true extent of the hydrocarbon wealth under the sea and estimates vary wildly.
The US Geological Survey estimates the South China Sea could contain nearly twice China’s known reserves of oil and plenty of gas, too. China’s own estimates are many times higher.
The Post said China’s Ministry of Land and Resources in Beijing told the People’s Daily in May that Chinese geologists had found 38 oil and gas fields under the South China Sea and would start exploiting them this year.
China’s insistence that it owns virtually the whole of the South China Sea and the resources beneath it, has fueled deep unease, undoing much of the goodwill China previously worked hard to develop, the Post said.
It said some Filipino politicians want the United States to reestablish military bases in the Philippines to act as a deterrent to Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.
It quoted James “Bongo” Gordon, mayor of Olongapo, as saying “we need the US to come back. The US needs to come back too.”
- Philippines Ups Spending To Guard South China Sea (TenderNews, Poten & Partners) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)