Mainland military experts say Beijing should make use of its deep-sea technology to explore and even start drilling for oil in disputed parts of the South China Sea to reinforce its sovereignty.
Xu Guangyu, a senior researcher at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association in Beijing, said military action would be China's last resort in resolving its territorial disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea because there were many other, peaceful approaches that Beijing could adopt, including diplomatic, economic and even technological means.
He said China could send its first home-made, semi-submersible, deep-sea drilling platform to explore for oil in the waters off Scarborough Shoal, the scene of a month-long stand-off with the Philippines. Both countries claim the area, known in China as Huangyan Island and in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal.
'We should be more active to show our determination to defend our sovereignty ... we didn't explore Huangyan in the past because we lacked the technology, but now we are capable of doing it,' Xu said. 'In the meantime, non-military vessels like fishery patrol boats should also be stationed at Huangyan to protect Chinese fishing boats and expel boats from other countries.'
The National Energy Administration announced this week that a deep-sea drilling platform, the Ocean 981, began producing oil from the Liuhua 29-22-1 well in the eastern part of the South China Sea, where Beijing's territorial claim was not disputed, on Wednesday.
More than 1,000 oil wells have been drilled in disputed parts of the South China Sea by the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries, but none are owned by China.
Senior Colonel Li Jie, from China's Naval Academy, said the announcement sent a signal to those countries that China was going to have a finger in the pie.
'China has done all kinds of preparation, including the development of deep-sea oil technology,' Li said. 'We know the public is very angry over the Philippines' provocative anti-China demonstration, but it's not worth using military means because the Philippines is no match for our military.'
Some popular mainland internet portals mentioned rumours yesterday the Guangzhou Military Command and the People's Liberation Army Navy's South China Sea Fleet had been put on the second level of the four-level combat readiness scale - with the first being the highest. The Ministry of National Defence denied the rumours in the afternoon.
Luo Yuan, a hawkish retired major general, has urged Beijing to take military action to punish the Philippines. 'We shouldn't let the Philippines get off free because it has severely encroached on our bottom line,' Luo told China Central Television's Today Focus programme on Thursday. 'If the PLA cannot declare war on the Philippines, why do we still keep such an army?'
But Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military expert, said China would not go to war with the Philippines, even though Beijing knew Washington could not help Manila.