Category Archives: South China Sea

The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometres (1,400,000 sq mi). The area’s importance largely results from one-third of the world’s shipping transiting through its waters, and that it is believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed.

‘US imposed media ban on Balikatan to avoid riling China’

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By Redempto D. Anda
Inquirer Southern Luzon
12:37 am | Sunday, April 29th, 2012

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—The American side in the just-concluded Balikatan 2012 joint military exercise changed rules unilaterally and imposed a media blackout on major live-fire exercises between the Philippines and United States military.

Live fire exercises were held at Crow Valley in Tarlac and at El Nido in Palawan.

The United States, according to a Philippine military source, made “several changes in the program of activities” apparently to avoid irritating China amid the standoff in the Scarborough Shoal that started on April 10.

“They made many changes to the plans and disallowed media coverage for Crow Valley and El Nido,” said the source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

The Crow Valley maneuvers, held on April 26, involved live-fire air and ground maneuvers and should have been open to media coverage as in past exercises, while the oil-rig takeover drill, which took place on April 20, was the first time such a scenario was introduced, a scenario which anticipated a counterattack on an oil facility taken over by hostile forces in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“When the Scarborough standoff happened, they (US Forces) suddenly became very cautious about how media was going to play up those stories.

“Ingat na ingat sila (They were very careful) and they wanted to forgo some of the activities,” the source said.

Western Command spokesperson Maj. Neil Estrella, contacted by phone Saturday, was asked if the El Nido oil-rig takeover exercise was supposed to be open to media coverage. He said the decision to make it off limits was “reached by both sides.”

“There were several considerations why it was not made open to the media. One was safety,” Estrella said.

The source, however, insisted that it was the American side that decided “unilaterally” that the media could not cover the oil-rig event.

“It was obvious the Americans did not want the military maneuvers to hog the limelight as the Philippines and China were in a standoff at Scarborough,” the source said.

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China top military paper warns of armed confrontation over seas

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By Chris Buckley
BEIJING | Sat Apr 21, 2012 2:21am EDT

(Reuters) – China‘s top military newspaper warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea.

The commentary in China’s Liberation Army Daily falls short of a formal government statement, but marks the harshest high-level warning yet from Beijing about tensions with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have recently sent ships to assert their claims.

This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.

The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.

“Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force,” said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People’s Liberation Army.

“Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability.”

Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute about the uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy shipping lanes.

REGIONAL TENSIONS

Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one but there is worry among its neighbors over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the seas and various islands, reefs and shoals.

In past patches of regional tension over disputed seas, hawkish Chinese military voices have also emerged, only to be later reined in by the government, and the same could be true this time.

Since late 2010, China has sought to cool tensions with the United States over regional disputes, trade and currency policies, human rights and other contentious issues. Especially with the ruling Chinese Party preoccupied with a leadership succession late in 2012, Beijing has stressed its hopes for steady relations throughout this year.

Nonetheless, experts have said that China remains wary of U.S. military intentions across the Asia-Pacific, especially in the wake of the Obama administration’s vows to “pivot” to the region, reinvigorating diplomatic and security ties with allies.

The Liberation Army Daily commentary echoed that wariness.

“The U.S. strategy of returning to the Asia-Pacific carries the implication of a shift in military focus, and there is no better strategic opening than China’s sovereignty disputes with the Philippines and other countries in the South China Sea,” said the newspaper.

“The United States’ intention of trying to draw more countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea is being brandished to the full,” it said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Tokyo Is Planning To Piss Off China By Buying These Disputed Islands In The East China Sea

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AP

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo‘s outspoken governor says the city has decided to buy a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea to bolster Japanese claims to the territory, a move that could elevate tensions with China.

Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said the city is close to reaching an agreement with the private Japanese owner of three of the four islands in the group known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

The islands, surrounded by rich fishing grounds, are also claimed by China and Taiwan. They have been a frequent flash point in diplomatic relations between Japan and China.

A collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard vessels in 2010 near the islands set off a serious diplomatic spat, with Beijing temporarily freezing trade and ministerial talks.

“Tokyo has decided to buy the Senkaku islands. Tokyo will protect the Senkakus,” Ishihara said in a speech Monday at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. “The Japanese are acquiring the islands to protect our own territory. Would anyone have a problem with that?”

Ishihara, a strong nationalist, said the idea is to block China from taking the islands from Japanese control, as the central government is reluctant to upset China.

He did not indicate how much the city would pay, but said the deal would be finalized while he is visiting the United States.

In Beijing, Liu Weimin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reacted harshly to Ishihara’s comment and reiterated China’s claim over the islands.

“Any unilateral measure taken by Japan is illegal and invalid, and will not change the fact that those islands belong to China,” he said in a statement.

Tokyo city official Tatsuo Fujii said details of the deal could not be released immediately and further discussions would be held with Okinawa prefecture, which has jurisdiction over the islands, and other related authorities.

The government currently pays rent to the owners of the four islands in the Senkaku group so they won’t be sold to any questionable buyer. It pays 24.5 million yen ($304,000) a year to the owner of the three islands, which are unused. The fourth island is used by the U.S. military for drills.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura reiterated on Tuesday that Japan has sovereignty over the Senkaku islands and said the central government might purchase them.

Japan and China also have disputes over undersea gas deposits in the East China Sea and Japan’s wartime history.

Ishihara previously helped to erect a lighthouse on one of the Senkaku islands, which a group of nationalists later replaced with a larger one recorded on navigation charts.

Ishihara’s comments about the disputed islands are also seen as politically motivated to discredit Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda‘s government, which is struggling to gain public support.

 

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South China Sea Spat Threatens Region’s Future

An aerial view shows the Pagasa (Hope) Island, which belongs to the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines in this file photo taken on July 20, 2011. (Reuters Photo)

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, rich in oil and natural gas reserves, require a quick and peaceful resolution to boost energy production and meet growing regional demand, a US official said.

“You have this conundrum of a region that needs energy and yet has a lot of territorial disputes or gray areas that inhibit the ability to produce some of it,” Robert Hormats, US undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said today at a briefing in Hanoi. “These are long-term investments, so you really need to start now if you’re going to have the energy five years or 10 years out.”

Vietnam and the Philippines have rejected China’s map of the South China Sea as a basis for joint oil and gas development, leading to clashes in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the waters, including blocks off Vietnam that Exxon Mobil Corp. and Russia’s Gazprom OAO are exploring.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said March 15 that Cnooc’s moves to develop the oil- and gas-rich northern areas of the South China Sea violates its sovereignty. China’s biggest offshore oil explorer opened bids to foreign companies last year for 19 blocks near the disputed Paracel Islands, according to its Web site.

The South China Sea may hold 213 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to 80 percent of Saudi Arabia’s reserves, according to Chinese studies cited in 2008 by the US Energy Information Agency.

Bloomberg

South China Sea Spat Threatens Region’s Future | The Jakarta Globe.

Watching World Energy: Turmoil in the South China Sea

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Even as world attention is mesmerized with the Strait of Hormuz, worrisome problems are now arising in the South China Sea, a region along the all-important energy sea lane of communication out to Asia Pacific.

‘You have this conundrum of a region that needs energy and yet has a lot of territorial disputes or gray areas that inhibit the ability to produce some of it,’ said Robert Hormats, U.S. undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment.

Hormats’ remarks came after the Philippines said that it has the right to invite foreign companies to explore for oil and gas in waters located between its western coast and the South China Sea – remarks dismissive of China’s own claims.

‘It is illegal for any country, government or company, without the Chinese government‘s permission, to develop oil and natural gas in waters under Chinese jurisdiction,’ said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

EXPLORATION ANNOUNCED

The dispute arose after the Philippines’ Energy Secretary Jose Almendras announced that his country had invited international oil companies to explore for oil and gas offshore Palawan province in two areas that fall within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Palawan province faces the South China Sea, which is claimed entirely by China. But other nations in the region, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, have competing claims of their own.

Claims over portions of the sea can have immense bearing on ownership of any oil or gas that lies under the region’s waters, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But no one knows for sure just how much oil and gas is actually there.

According to EIA, one Chinese estimate suggests potential oil resources as high as 213 billion barrels of oil (bbl), but EIA also mentions a 1993/1994 estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey which put reserves at just 28 billion bbl.

EVIDENCE QUESTIONED

EIA notes speculation that the Spratly Islands could be an untapped oil-bearing province, but it said that, ‘There is little evidence outside of Chinese claims to support the view that the region contains substantial oil resources.’

Of course, there is only one way to find out and that is to explore, explore, explore. The problem, though, is that overlapping claims to the region are hindering exploration.

That was certainly true a year ago when two Chinese vessels threatened to ram the Veritas Voyager, a survey ship hired by U.K.-based Forum Energy PLC.

The Philippines government dispatched a surveillance plane, patrol ships and light attack aircraft to the disputed area, known as Reed Bank. By then, though, the Chinese vessels had vanished and Forum decided to suspend its exploration activities.

Now, a year on, Forum Energy apparently is planning to return to Reed Bank, aiming to drill its first well for oil and natural gas, an event that some analysts say could spark a military crisis if China responds more aggressively than it did last year.

TOP PRIORITY

Still, that year has seen a significant change in the posture of the U.S. in the region, with President Barack Obama announcing in January that Asia Pacific is now his country’s top priority in terms of global defense.

That view was underlined in early March by Admiral Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, who said that the America’s military must be present in the South China Sea.

China was less confrontational in 2011 in asserting its claims in the South China Sea than it was in 2010, Willard told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Willard also noted that China continues to challenge vessels conducting oil and gas exploration within space that it claims as its own. In a word, he said, ‘They remain aggressive.’

LITMUS TEST

Just how aggressive they will remain is yet to be determined, perhaps by U.S. plans for war games in April with the Philippine navy near Reed Bank – war games that one analyst suggests will be viewed by China as provocative.

‘This will be a litmus test of where China stands on the South China Sea issue,’ said Ian Storey, a fellow at the Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

According to Storey, the Chinese ‘could adopt the same tactics as they did last year and harass the drilling vessels, or they might even take a stronger line against them and send in warships.’

Contribution by Eric Watkins from Oil Diplomacy
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