Chinese oil industry experts claimed yesterday that there is a good chance the oil rig that has caused such a kerfuffle in Southeast Asia is highly likely to strike significant oil and gas reserves. This would be China’s first viable energy find in the area. And of course, Vietnam would get none of it.Reuters reports:
“The place where the rig is drilling at the moment is likely to be a gas field. China conducted three-dimensional geological surveys before moving the rig there,” said Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, a Chinese government think-tank on the southern island of Hainan.
“China is pretty confident … otherwise they wouldn’t start drilling,” added Wu, a leading expert on China’s ambitions in the South China Sea.
China’s confidence is likely to further annoy Hanoi. Vietnam owns two exploration blocks to the west of China’s rig; China’s nine-dashed line, which Beijing says delineates its territory, cuts through them. Vietnam has said it is considering taking China to court over its aggressive behavior in the area.If that happens, Vietnam will become the second nation to take China to court over the South China Sea disputes. The Philippines’ case against Beijing is currently winding its way through a United Nations arbitration tribunal. Both countries have, in recent weeks, moved to put aside their differences to take China on from a position of greater strength.They’re not alone.Japan has taken a more active role in the South China Sea disputes. (Of course, Japan has its own territorial disagreement with China in the East China Sea.) As the AP reports, Japan is hoping to accelerate plans to supply Vietnam with advanced coast guard ships, which Hanoi would presumably use to defend its South China Sea claims against encroachers like China. Tokyo and Manila are already far along with a similar deal. Separately, as long as Shinzo Abe’s administration succeeds in changing Japan’s defense laws, Tokyo is planning to equip Australia with advanced submarine technology and perhaps a “fleet of fully engineered, stealthy vessels.” Though Australia isn’t embroiled in a territorial dispute against China like Japan and Vietnam, the deal with Tokyo represents the latest example of Abe’s plan to build an alliance of countries that stand against Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific. And for that matter, India, too, has signaled a willingness to join that alliance.Forty years ago, China and Vietnam went to war over islands in the South China Sea. What we are seeing now is eerily similar to that conflict. Back then, Vietnam appealed to the United States for support and military assistance in its fight against China, but the Washington was in the process of opening relations with Beijing and chose not to take sides. This time around, Hanoi has been quiet about deepening its relationship with the United States, but not so reserved when contemplating regional alliances with neighboring countries that are similarly worried about Chinese aggression.This coalition is likely to become starkly visible on Friday at the Shangri-La Dialogue, where defense and security officials from Asia and the West will meet, some of them for the first time together. Shinzo Abe will deliver a keynote. He is expected to call for peace and stability in the region, and condemn aggression by certain countries. This will go down well among several Southeast Asian countries: “We welcome Japan’s…plan to play a larger security role in the region,” a senior Philippine defense official told Reuters. The Bataan Death March, it seems, is no longer relevant.Seismic developments are afoot in East Asian geopolitics.