Taiwan undersea oil plans raise neighbors' eyebrows
The island's exploration efforts in the South China Sea could fuel tensions with China and other nations with territorial claims there. Heated rhetoric last year prompted the US to intervene.
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Vietnam and the Philippines also staked claims in the sea. Vessels from China and the Philippines were locked in a standoff last year, and 70 Vietnamese sailors died in a clash in 1988.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Troubled waters: disputes in the China Seas
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But even as both countries periodically make what's thought of as aggressive moves in the region, both would stop short of forcing Taiwan out from the waters near Spratly where it already has an airstrip, analysts say. Too much bluster might push Taiwan closer to China, which wants more economic ties with Taiwan and which Southeast Asian claimants see as a bigger threat to their maritime interests.
“Lacking much naval power, Manila would have a hard time actually physically preventing any oil exploration by Taiwan,” says Scott Harold, associate political scientist at the RAND Corp., a policy research nonprofit in the United States.
“Hanoi would have a better prospect of reacting militarily, but any stand-off would potentially put them on the wrong side of both Washington and Beijing,” he says.
But much of the oil is already spoken for. China’s state-owned CNOOC Ltd. began drilling undersea last year, and its peer in Hanoi, PetroVietnam, has started surveying. The Philippines is also contracting out other exploration tracts.
Taiwan’s Bureau of Mines will draw up a budget this year and hire CPC Corp. Taiwan to look for oil, CPC spokesman Chen Ming-hui says. Officials told parliament that exploration would cost at least $562,000.
Taiwan needs the oil as 99 percent of energy sources are now imported, Mr. Chen says. “The South China Sea is a place where Vietnam and others have sighted oil, so we think the opportunities there are good,” he says.
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