One of the reasons that countries claiming territory in Asia’s coastal waters are fighting so bitterly over what are, after all, remote, mostly-uninhabited rocks is that by some estimates there’s a ton of oil and gas under the seabed. That’s why, earlier this week, Tokyo warned Beijing not to install offshore drilling platforms near disputed waters in the East China Sea. Though China retained plausible deniability by situating these platforms in undisputed territory, Japan voiced concerns that the oil and gas reserves being tapped could extend into its own territory.To protest the Chinese rigs’ presence, Tokyo released pictures of those rigs under construction earlier this week. Chinese authorities were none too pleased, as Reuters reports:
Japan’s release of pictures of Chinese construction activity in the East China Sea will only provoke confrontation between the two countries and do nothing for efforts to promote dialogue, China’s Foreign Ministry said. […]In a statement late on Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry said it had every right to develop oil and gas resources in waters not in dispute that fall under its jurisdiction.“What Japan did provokes confrontation between the two countries, and is not constructive at all to the management of the East China Sea situation and the improvement of bilateral relations,” it said.
This issue isn’t likely to go away. The EIA estimates that the East China Sea contains 200 million barrels of oil, and between 1 and 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Those numbers are dwarfed by the EIA’s estimates of the reserves of oil and gas in the South China Sea—11 billion barrels and 190 trillion cubic feet, respectively. As countries in the region explore and start to extract those deposits, they’ll be pouring further fuel on the regional fire.