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China Wants It All And Will Fight For It
by James Dunnigan
February 3, 2013

The government has told oil companies to hold off on drilling for natural gas off Reed bank. This is within Filipino territory but China threatens to use force to prevent drilling. Two years ago China interfered with Philippines supported oil exploration in Reed Bank, which is considered part of the Spratly Islands. This exploration work was done 230 kilometers off the coast of the Philippine's Palawan Island, which is well within the internationally recognized EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) that extends 380 kilometers from the coast. China considers itself the owner of the Spratleys and has been increasingly aggressive in enforcing that claim. China admits that it had research ships in the area and makes it clear that any oil exploration or drilling activity in waters claimed by China will be at risk of interference by Chinese ships and aircraft. This alone is enough to scare off most oil companies.

The Chinese strategy is to make it difficult for other nations to fish or search for oil and gas in the disputed waters. China will then offer to negotiate and share the economic benefits. The other nations will probably be offered some fishing rights in waters of the EEZ of each nation neighboring the South China Sea but China will keep all the oil and gas outside each nation’s territorial waters (22 kilometers from the coast). China is assuming that no nation, including the United States, will confront China with military force in these matters. China itself will use military force sparingly. "Illegal" oil exploration or fishing, for example, will encounter Chinese civilian ships and a few small military ships, that "accidently" destroy fishing nets or disrupt oil exploration activities. This will, as it has in the past, involve "accidental" collisions with the offending ships. Any use of force against the offending Chinese civilian ships will be met with force by Chinese warplanes and warships. The Philippines is hoping that the United States will provide the military muscle to make China back off. The U.S. has been lukewarm in its response to this Filipino request. The Philippines has had oil and gas exploration going on in the Reed Bank area since 2005. Drilling was supposed to start last year. The Philippines really needs the income from this project.

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