Monday, 28 March 2011
China warns against the Philippines' Spratly Islands exploration
Oil exploration around the Spratly Islands has long been controversial, as ownership over the territory is contested by six littoral states, but the situation has heated up considerably in March.
On Wednesday 23rd March, the Philippines' Department of Energy said that the UK-based Forum Energy had completed a seimic survey of the Reed Bank, near the disputed island group.
Manilla followed up the announcement with plans for possible drilling in the region.
According to Rigzone, when asked for comment on the plan, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, "China holds indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands [Spratly Islands] and the adjacent sea waters."
"Any activities by countries or companies to explore for oil or gas in the sea waters in China's jurisdiction without the permission of the Chinese government will constitute a violation of China's sovereignty and...will be illegal and invalid."
She did not, however, make specific reference to the Philippines or Forum Energy, nor did she say the survey area was actually in waters claimed by China.
Forum Energy holds what it calls the Reed Bank concession, which is located west of the Philippines' Palawan Island in the South China Sea.
China claims most of the South China Sea, as far as south as Indonesian waters, 1,200 km south of Hainan island. This is based on what it sees as its historical claim to the hundreds of small islands that make up the Spratly and Paracel Islands. The Spratly Islands are called the Nansha Islands by China.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all contest China's claim, and assert ownership of part or all of the disputed territory.
The Reed Bank, the territory currently being focused on, lies about 150 km east of the Spratlys, and lies well within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles, according to the Vancouver Sun.
The Philippines announcement comes at a time of already heightened tension. The Vancouver Sun reported that on 2nd March, two Chinese warships 'harassed' a ship doing survey work around the Reed Bank for the Philippines. The Philippine military sent an aircraft to the region to protect the oil explorers from the Department of Energy.
The chief of the Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command, Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban said that the Chinese were claiming that the oil explorers were in Chinese territory. He told GMA News that when the aircraft arrived, the Chinese patrollers were no longer there and there was no confrontation.
The Philippines' President Benigno Aquino sent a formal letter of protest to the Chinese government as a result, however, the letter was dismissed by Beijing. Vietnam also protested to Beijing about its naval activity in the disputed waters.
In March 2010, the New York Times reported that two senior US officials had been told in a meeting with Chinese counterparts that Beijing's claim to the South China Sea was a part of its 'core interest'.
Beijing's assertive position has prompted great concern, not only for the litteral states who are interested in the oil-rich Spratlys, but also for the US. Nearly half of the world's maritime fleet by tonnage passes through the South China Sea every year, and the US relies on being granted free passage through the waters.
The Reed Bank Basin alone is thought to contain some 440 million bbl oil equivalent. The wider Spratly Island group is thought to be hydrocarbon rich as the surrounding waters have proven reserves, although very little has been confirmed within the Spratlys themselves.
Sources: Rigzone, Vancouver Sun, GMA News, Global Nation- Inquirer
For more information, please see the Menas Borders' website, here.