Extra patrol vessels set to fuel tension

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am

Tension in the South and East China seas is likely to escalate as Beijing deploys more patrol vessels to demonstrate its sovereignty in disputed waters also claimed by many Southeast Asian countries.

Beijing has sent at least 14 vessels to Scarborough Shoal - which it calls Huangyan Island and the Philippines calls Panatag Shoal - in the South China Sea, while two other fisheries patrol vessels have started regular missions near the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, according to the Philippine and Japanese media.

Mainland-based maritime experts said China was well-prepared to deal with any possible military conflicts with Japan, the Philippines and other neighbouring countries involved in territorial disputes in the South and East China seas.

'All those small Asian countries are going to challenge China's territorial sovereignty just because they have the support of some countries,' Professor Wang Hanling , an expert in maritime affairs and international law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, referring to the United States' involvement in maritime disputes between China and its Asian neighbours.

'China was forced to make a strong reaction as Japan, the Philippines and other Asian countries have been very aggressive in dragging the US into the territorial disputes. We have to fight back now.'

However, Dr Zhang Mingliang, from Jinan University's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said now was a good time for China and its neighbours to solve a problem created by history.

'I don't think the disputes will escalate into military conflicts because China has sent only non-military vessels to the troubled waters. Beijing has repeatedly expressed its sincerity in solving the problems peacefully with our Asian friends,' Zhang said.

Meanwhile, the National Energy Administration said Beijing would next week have its first home-made, deep-sea semi-submersible drilling platform operating in the eastern part of the South China Sea, where its territorial claim is not disputed.

The Ocean Oil 981, capable of operating at depths of 3,000 metres would start producing oil from the Liuhua 29-22-1 well on Wednesday, marking the beginning of the country's deep-water oil plan.

Ocean Oil 981 was towed to the eastern part of the South China Sea in late February and drilled the Liuhua well in the biggest oilfield in the South China Sea, being jointly developed by China, the United States and other countries, in a trial operation.

State-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp owns the biggest share of the Liuhua oilfield. It has spent more than six years and 6 billion yuan (HK$7.4 billion) on the project.

Wang and Zhang said more than 1,000 oil wells had been built in disputed parts of the South China Sea, but none were owned by China.