South China Sea: this game of disute is of undiscovered oil reserves at 11 billion barrels, 17.7 billion tons of crude oil as compared to Kuwait with 13 billion tons and rich resources which is still unextractracted from sea and can fuel up the China for hundreds of years.
Brief of dispute
The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. An estimated US$5 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea and many non-claimant states want the South China Sea to remain international waters. To promote this, several states, including the United States, conduct “freedom of navigation” operations.
In July 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled against the PRC’s maritime claims in Philippines v. China. The People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) stated that they did not recognise the tribunal and insisting that the matter should be resolved through bilateral negotiations with other claimants. However, the tribunal did not rule on the ownership of the islands or delimit maritime boundaries.
Military and the policies
China’s military buildup underlines China’s success in subduing its rivals in the South China Sea. Since 2013 China has expanded artificial islands and reefs in the sea and subsequently installed a network of runways, missile launchers, barracks and communications facilities.
These military advances have led many to wonder if Beijing has already established unassailable control over the disputed waters. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea and its islands – claims that are looking increasingly forlorn in the wake of China’s military buildup.
“What China is winning is de facto control of nearly the entire South China Sea, including all activities and resources in it, despite the other surrounding Southeast Asian states’ respective legal rights and entitlements under international law,” said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea
At stake is the huge commercial and military leverage that comes with controlling one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, through which up to $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis insists that China faces “consequences” for the “militarization” of South China Sea, which he says is being done for “the purposes of intimidation and coercion.”
The disputes involve both maritime boundaries and islands. There are several disputes, each of which involves a different collection of countries:
- The nine-dash line area claimed by the Republic of China, later the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which covers most of the South China Sea and overlaps the exclusive economic zone claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Maritime boundary along the Vietnamese coast between the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
- Maritime boundary north of Borneo between the PRC, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, and Taiwan.
- Islands, reefs, banks and shoals in the South China Sea, including the Paracel Islands, the Pratas Islands, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands between the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and parts of the area also contested by Malaysia and the Philippines.
- Maritime boundary in the waters north of the Natuna Islands between the PRC, Indonesia and Taiwan.
- Maritime boundary off the coast of Palawan and Luzon between the PRC, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
- Maritime boundary, land territory, and the islands of Sabah, including Ambalat, between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
- Maritime boundary and islands in the Luzon Strait between the PRC, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
Trade & Energy
South China sea sees a heavy percentage of world trade. Around 50% of India’s trade passes through Malacca Strait (part of South China Sea). The South China Sea region is believed to have vast reserves of oil and natural gas.The presence of China’s military threatens trade and energy exploration for other countries.
This provides economic opportunities to India as countries like Vietnam have asked India to help them out in oil exploration. China has already warned India when ONGC and PetroVietnam signed a MoU(Memorandum Of Understanding). Moreover, the increasing Chinese presence in the region has created a threat for Indian and Japanese trade.
Therefore, India has to be involved in South China Sea to safeguard it’s economic opportunities and trade.
From Strategic point of view, India might be interested in developing military and air base in South China Sea (as suggested by Defense Minister George Fernandes) to counter China from different directions because of the increasing Chinese presence in Indian Ocean which has become a huge matter of concern for the Indian Government. However, nothing can be said much in this regard as India hasn’t said or done anything officially in developing a military presence in South China Sea.
Reason of dispute
The area may be rich in oil and natural gas deposits; however, the estimates are highly varied. The Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining of the People’s Republic of China estimated that the South China Sea may contain 17.7 billion tons of crude oil (compared to Kuwait with 13 billion tons). In the years following the announcement by the PRC ministry, the claims regarding the South China Sea islands intensified.
However, other sources claim that the proven reserves of oil in the South China Sea may only be 7.5 billion barrels, or about 1.1 billion tons. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s profile of the South China Sea region, a US Geological Survey estimate puts the region’s discovered and undiscovered oil reserves at 11 billion barrels, as opposed to a PRC figure of 125 billion barrels. The same EIA report also points to the wide variety of natural gas resource estimations, ranging from 190 trillion cubic feet to 500 trillion cubic feet, likely located in the contested Reed Bank”.
Chinese objection to Indian naval presence and oil exploration
On 22 July 2011, the INS Airavat, an Indian amphibious assault vessel on a friendly visit to Vietnam, was reportedly contacted 45 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast in the disputed South China Sea by a party identifying itself as the PLA Navy and stating that the ship was entering PRC waters. A spokesperson for the Indian Navy explained that as no ship or aircraft was visible, the INS Airavat proceeded on her onward journey as scheduled. The Indian Navy further clarified that “[t]here was no confrontation involving the INS Airavat. India supports freedom of navigation in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and the right of passage in accordance with accepted principles of international law. These principles should be respected by all.”
In September 2011, shortly after the PRC and Vietnam signed an agreement seeking to contain a dispute over the South China Sea, India’s state-run explorer, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) said that its overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh Limited, had signed a three-year agreement with PetroVietnam for developing long-term co-operation in the oil sector, and that it had accepted Vietnam’s offer of exploration in certain specified blocks in the South China Sea. In response, PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, without referring to India by name, stated:
China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island. China’s stand is based on historical facts and international law. China’s sovereign rights and positions are formed in the course of history and this position has been held by Chinese Government for long. On the basis of this China is ready to engage in peaceful negotiations and friendly consultations to peacefully solve the disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights so as to positively contribute to peace and tranquillity in the South China Sea area. We hope that the relevant countries respect China’s position and refrain from taking unilateral action to complicate and expand the issue. We hope they will respect and support countries in the region to solve the bilateral disputes through bilateral channels. As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction. We hope the foreign countries do not get involved in South China Sea dispute
China regards the FONOPs as sabre-rattling and “a challenge to [our] sovereignty,” according to Lt. Gen. He Lei, Beijing’s lead representative at the Singapore conference.
He restated the government position on troops and weapons on islands in the South China Sea, describing the deployments as an assertion of sovereignty and said that allegations of militarization were “hyped up” by the U.S.
In mid-2016 the tribunal dismissed China’s expansive “nine-dash line” claim to much of the South China Sea and its artificial island-building and expansion, all of which the tribunal said contravened the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.
American evasiveness is a reminder to the Philippines that the U.S. might not risk war with China over its old ally. “It is debatable whether Filipinos believe that the U.S. will have its back in a conflict with China,” Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines said. “Duterte’s repeated statements against the reliability of the U.S. as an ally tends to undermine this further.”
Duterte’s reticence has left Vietnam as the sole claimant willing to speak up. Discussing recent developments in the South China Sea, Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich told the Singapore conference, “Under no circumstances could we excuse militarization by deploying weapons and military hardware over disputed areas against regional commitments.”
In 2014, anti-China riots kicked off across Vietnam after China placed an oil rig in South China Sea waters claimed by Hanoi. In early June there were demonstrations against proposals that protesters claimed will give Chinese businesses favored access in so-called Special Economic Zones in Vietnam.
The Lan Tay gas platform, operated by Rosneft Vietnam, sits in the South China Sea off the Vietnamese coast. China has been hindering Vietnam’s oil exploration activities in the sea.
Vietnam’s response to potential isolation has been a cautious dalliance with the U.S. In late 2016, shortly before the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, American warships docked in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay naval base, the first such visit since the former antagonists normalized ties in 1995. That landmark was followed in March this year by the arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the central Vietnam city of Danang.
Hanoi recently called for greater Japanese involvement in the region’s maritime disputes, perhaps signalling an interest in a wider effort to counter China. But unlike the Philippines, Vietnam, which like China is a single party communist-run state, is not a U.S. treaty ally. Historical and ideological differences mean that there are limits to how closely Vietnam will align with the U.S.