Friday, July 03, 2020

Thuc D. Pham

In 1968, the United Nations sponsored a geophysical survey in the South China Sea/the East Sea (SCS/ES) and reported that the region may abound with petroleum deposits but no detailed information was unveiled. The discovery ushered in a speculation that the region may be rich in oil and gas reserves, which gave the SCS/ES a great strategic value, and stipulated littoral states one after the other to put forth their own demands for sovereignty over islands, and took action to occupy some of them, leading to territorial dispute.

Notwithstanding complicated sovereignty dispute, recent developments show the rising roles oil actors play in the SCS/ES, ranging from reserve assessment to exploration and exploitation. This article strongly see oil companies as one important factor and argues that their participation in the SCS/ES further increases attention to the dispute. The article has four main sections. The first section examines the efforts made by various oil actors to estimate the reserves and explains the reasons why those estimates are so varied. The second section explores the dual role China National Offshore Oil Companies (CNOOC) plays in the SCS/ES. The third section continues with the Southeast Asian claimants’ national oil companies (NOCs). The final section explores the participation of international oil companies (IOCs).

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