Second Part of a Series
(Previously… Arrogance and Ignorance on the Spratlys Islands)
At least 6 countries, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, have filed separate sovereign claims on all or part of the Spratlys.
For years, the Philippines and the other small ASEAN member countries claiming the group of small Islands in the South Pacific (or at least parts thereof), have suffered insults from the mighty and powerful Chinese.
China, the most powerful and the most assertive among them, is claiming all parts of the Spratlys. Disregarding similar claims from some other countries, it was claiming the group of islands as part of its natural history.
According to Marcus Hall’s “Trouble Brewing in South China Sea”, it entered the dispute in three phases. The first one in the 1950’s when it claimed the Paracel Islands (north of the Spratlys). The second phase was in 1974, when it seized the Paracel Islands from Vietnam. The third phase began on 14 March 1988, with China’s military engagement with Vietnamese forces over the removal of China’s flag from a newly claimed shoal. The clash resulted in China gaining possession of 6 islands in the Spratly areas.
Other countries claim parts of the Spratlys as part of its offshore territorial zone. But the real driving force above just some pieces of land is the presence of that thing that almost always drive a country to war… OIL.
The Philippines claim approximately 60 of islands in the Spratlys. It started the claim in 1968 when it occupied three islands off the coast of Palawan for oil exploration. It then officially filed the claim and named them the Kalayaan (Freedom) Group of Islands.
Vietnam signed an exploration deal with Mobil in 1994 on waters also claimed by China and in 2001 its Petro Vietnam signed the Con Son deal with BP, Stat Oil, and India’s Oil and Natural Gas to explore waters 467 km southeast of Ho Chi Minh City.
The Philippines have an existing joint exploration project with Royal Dutch Shell Group with its Malampaya project near the coast of Palawan.
China in July 1992, through China National Offshore Oil Corp. signed a joint exploration deal with Crestone Energy Corp. and in 1997 China allegedly began operating the Kan Tan III oil rig north of the Spratly Islands within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone area.
Malaysia on the other hand had been operating ninety oil- producing wells since 1992 in some parts of the Spratlys.
Brunei claims the Louisa Reef in the Spratlys, located adjacent to its coastline. Production of its nine oil fields in the South China Sea hovers around 143,000 barrels per day.
Though currently had no oil rigs operating thus far, Taiwan claims all of the islands in the Spratlys because of its strategic importance. With its recent military posturings and maneuverings against Mainland China, who still recognizes “renegade” Taiwan as part of its own, the area of the Spratlys is vital to its national security.
National security or sovereignity, the presence of oil is a major factor that pushes each country to the diplomatic fray. China’s rising huge demands, rising energy costs and unstable energy sources have prompted each claimant to look for energy alternatives. And the oil rich shoals of the Spratlys are an easy target.
The history of military and diplomatic skirmishes regarding these islands proved to be an annoyance to the international community particularly in South East Asia. These tensions are further aggravated with several foreign firms competing to have a stake in the continuous oil exploration in the area.
The Spratlys issue continues to become a ticking time bomb for Asia. With current estimates of proven and untapped 28 billion barrells of oil and 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, ownership of these islands will always be in dispute.
And if these disputes are continuously left unattended and mutual interests never upheld, these skirmishes had a big probability of escalating into a full scale regional conflict, paralyzing not just the free flow of sea traffic but the continuous economic growth of the entire region.
However, China’s economic stature and mighty military arsenal is so huge compare to that of the smaller countries. And with its supremacy (economically) over its neighbors, the Chinese have continued to disregard peaceful diplomatic accords over the issue. Militarily, the smaller countries had no choice but face consistent bullying from the communist superpower.
Pardon my French, but this fucking crude makes us dudes rude! Now that’s almost a rap.
(To Be Continued… Skirmishes In and Out of Sea)