Exploitation of seabed oil and gas resources is one of several major contentious issues complicating the tense South China Sea (East Sea) situation, a retired US diplomat said at an international conference held at Ton Duc Thang University in HCM city over the weekend.
David Brown, an independent researcher, citing US Energy Information Administration data, said that oil and gas resources in the South China Sea were equivalent to 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of gas.
However, in November 2012, the China National Offshore Oil Company estimated that the area holds even more, about 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in undiscovered resources.
China, which faces an increasing demand for oil and gas, consumed 3.5 billion barrels of oil in 2011.
By 2035, China’s demand for oil and other liquid fuels is expected to grow by 70 per cent to six billion barrels annually and will be slightly greater than the US, according to British Petroleum’s (BP) annual statistical review.
In 1993, China became a net importer of oil. In 2012, China imported about 57 percent of the 3.5 billion barrels of oil that its economy needed. By 2040, it is expected to source more than 70 percent of its oil and about 40 percent of its gas from abroad.
Brown said he was pessimistic about an agreement on seabed hydrocarbons among claimants, as China has refused to enter into discussions. However, he said there had been successful sharing of seabed oil and gas in disputed territory in the region.
This approach would have a chance if China’s aggressive behavior was not aimed at getting control over maritime territory but rather at only getting preferred access to the resources of the seabed, said Brown.
Viet Nam, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia should give China first option to purchase any hydrocarbons offered for sale on the world market, he said.
Carlyle A. Thayer, of the Australian Defense Force Academy, told delegates that Viet Nam had tried its best to negotiate with China through dialogue, but to no avail.
Thayer suggested that ASEAN should negotiate with China over the issue, calling for ASEAN members to unite in this issue, noting that some ASEAN members had taken a neutral position.
He also said that ASEAN should establish a marine police force and security council.
Le Vinh Truong, of the Southeast Asia Sea Research Foundation, suggested that Viet Nam rely on international regulations to deal with the dispute.
He said he supported the solution of filing a lawsuit against China in international court.
However, Irena Chan, of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said she was not confident about relying on the UN Security Council. China is a standing member of the council.
Several people believe that the UN can deal with the issue, but the role of the UN should be examined, Chan said.
Because it takes much time to lodge a lawsuit against China, members of ASEAN should create a stronger union to face China, she added.
Chan agreed with Truong’s opinion that filing a lawsuit against China would not greatly impact Viet Nam’s economy.
She said that trade between the Philippines and China had increased recently although the Philippines had filed a lawsuit against China.