US watches as Beijing forges ahead with S China Sea oilfield plans

China’s recently published Resource Development Strategic Action Plan (2014-2020) says the country plans to establish a large oilfield in the disputed South China Sea in the next six years capable of producing around ten million tonnes of oil a year, according to Duowei News, a media outlet run by overseas Chinese.

From the end of 2013 China has accelerated land reclamation projects in the area, with Fiery Cross Reef, which is also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan, being expanded to 0.9 square kilometers as of Oct. 16, making it now the largest island in the disputed Spratlys. Estimates based on a satellite image taken on Nov. 17 suggest that the reef has now grown in area to 1.3 square km and that the reclaimed land is structured like a landing strip. Under previous administrations China had pushed for the shelving of disputes and the joint exploration of resources in the region by claimant nations out of diplomatic considerations, Duowei stated. Due to the land reclamation projects and moves to build airports as well as calls for bids to exploit oil resources by other claimants, however, the shelving of disputes is no longer on China’s agenda. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, there has been an increased military presence in the region and moves that suggest China is moving forward with its plans to exploit resources.

In 2009, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia all protested to a map China submitted to the UN featuring the 9-dash-line that Beijing uses to assert its claims over the entire South China Sea. In August this year the US called for a freeze on actions in the region, and on Nov. 21 Washington called for China to stop land reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef, which China calls Yongshu Reef. Beijing sees this as signaling US support for the claims of Vietnam and the Philippines in the region in an attempt to “contain” China. However, there seems little chance of the US resorting to military action over the issue, as China has pushed forward with establishing Sansha prefecture comprising disputed island groups such as the Spratlys, the Paracels and Macclesfield Bank and deployed a garrison to the region, as well as taking administrative control over the disputed Scarborough Shoal, without US military interference.

The People’s Liberation Army now patrols the area regularly and a new airport under construction will likely lend air support. China deployed an oil drilling platform to a region Vietnam claims as its exclusive economic zone in May of this year, prompting anti-China riots in many parts of Vietnam.

The South China Sea is important for China both in terms of military strategy and in terms of resources and fishing, and China’s actions in the region over the last year have been a long time in the planning. Back in 2006, China National Offshore Oil Corporation had already begun research and development on an ocean oil platform that could dig to a depth of 3,000m. The Haiyang Shiyou 981 deployed in teh Paracels earlier this year is a sixth generation deep-water semi-submersible oil drilling platform and the first to be developed with indigenous Chinese technology, according to Duowei. China got into a standoff with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and then after the establishment of Sansha, Beijing encouraged fishermen to fish in the area and increased the number of military facilities on the islands.

Xi Jinping has distinguished himself from his predecessor Hu Jintao with an adjustment in military policy in the region and more emphasis on concrete action. Near misses between Chinese and US naval vessels and fighters in the region suggest that China is enforcing its territorial claims more assertively than before.

Although China has often stated that it is committed to peaceful development since the reform and opening up policy was launched, it sees territorial disputes as attempts to undermine Chinese sovereignty and is therefore unlikely to shy away from using force to assert itself, as it did during the Johnson South Reef Skirmish with Vietnam over the Spratlys in 1988. Duowei used the words of Mao Zedong when describing China’s current policy in the South China Sea, “fighting for peace ensures that peace flourishes, whereas trying to seek peace through compromise is the death of peace.”

Full article: US watches as Beijing forges ahead with S China Sea oilfield plans (Want China Times)

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