Energy fight in disputed sea draws US, Chinese warships

It is unclear how much recoverable oil and gas is in the disputed energy blocks at the heart of the stand-off in the South China Sea, but the threat posed by Beijing could see Petronas robbed of drilling opportunities at a time when Malaysia’s economy is struggling. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, April 23, 2020.

A FIVE-NATION face-off involving US and Chinese warships has emerged from Malaysia’s bid to explore energy blocks in the South China Sea, reports Bloomberg.

Petronas last December contracted a vessel to explore two areas in waters also claimed by Vietnam and China. The two countries immediately deployed ships to shadow the vessel.

The situation deteriorated on April 16 with the arrival of Chinese surveyor Haiyang Dizhi 8, and the US this week sent warships within 50 nautical miles of the Malaysian vessel.

The US Indo-Pacific Command yesterday confirmed that the USS America, USS Bunker Hill and USS Barry are operating in the disputed sea, without giving a precise location.

On Saturday, China announced the establishment of districts on the Paracel and Spratly Islands, drawing protests from the Philippines and Vietnam.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin also accused China of pointing a radar gun at a navy ship in the country’s waters.

US State Secretary Michael Pompeo today accused China of “exploiting” the worldwide focus on Covid-19 with provocations in the South China Sea, and in a video call with the 10 Asean foreign ministers, said Beijing has “dispatched a flotilla that included an energy survey vessel for the sole purpose of intimidating other claimants from engaging in offshore hydrocarbon development”.

Without a direct threat from the US, China has gradually disrupted the efforts of Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia to tap oil, gas and fishing resources off their shores.

The Asian giant claims 80% of the South China Sea through its “nine-dash line”, and its increasing economic power has seen it investing in bigger ships that can operate further out.

It is unknown how much recoverable oil and gas is in the disputed Malaysian blocks at the heart of the stand-off, but if Beijing continues to stand in the way of future exploration within the nine-dash line, Petronas will be robbed of drilling opportunities at a time when the company is trying to boost domestic spending amid an economic slump triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia is committed to safeguarding its interests in the area.

“Malaysia holds the view that the South China Sea should remain a sea of peace and trade. Thus, matters relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully based on the principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982,” he said in a statement today. – April 23, 2020.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.