It's been a month since I last mentioned the subject of the South China Sea, and there have been a few new developments, so I suppose it's that time again. Though I must say the degree of apparent interest in this topic here in the US has been underwhelming to non-existent.
China at the moment is playing it very soft on the subject of the South China Sea, because they have other more pressing subjects to pursue. Specifically, they are busy making friends in Europe by establishing stronger economic ties and offering financial support. Europe's bankers, who essentially run the EU, will not forget this support at a time of crisis. And China is also busy applying heavy pressure behind the scenes to get Washington to hammer out a budget deal and raise the debt ceiling. China has invested very heavily in US government debt, and would take a huge loss if Uncle Sam should default.
Behind the scenes, however, the Chinese have been as busy as the proverbial beaver.
This month, July 2011, will see China deploy to the Spratly Islands region the biggest oil exploration, drilling and support rig in existence, a rig constructed at an investment of 8 Billion US dollars.
July 2011 will also see the official launch by the Chinese Navy of its first aircraft carrier, and there is a long tale of deception behind that. Back in 1998, the Chinese bought an unfinished aircraft carrier from the Ukraine, saying that they intended to make a floating casino out of it. The carrier, named Varyag, was a leftover from the USSR, and Ukraine had no use for it. In a truly epic voyage, which deserves a post of its own, the Chinese then towed the Varyag to China, where it has been in drydock ever since. This month, the completed aircraft carrier will be launched, with no casino facilities. Now, let it be understood that this is not a fleet carrier like those used by the US Navy. It is in fact a smaller "ski jump" design of the type once employed by European navies.
And speaking of European navies and aircraft carriers, there are three different Chinese consortia bidding on the former HMS Ark Royal. The story this time is that it will be converted into "the world's largest floating exhibition platform for high-end appliances". I can't even keep a straight face while typing that. Come on, guys, can't you at least cook up a halfway-credible cover story? Not all of us are complete and total idiots...
Olivia Chung's story on the Ark Royal sale in Asia Times Online
Retired US diplomat David Brown has raised another interesting point about the South China Sea area, (we have got to make up a handy acronym for that), namely the existence of Methane Hydrates in vast quantities under the sea. When heated, these Methane Hydrates release methane, or natural gas. Biting my tongue here.
According to David Brown's article-
A 2007 Chinese report estimated that the methane hydrate deposits found so far in the South China Sea may hold as much exploitable energy as 10 billion tons of oil.
I confess that one made me scratch my head a little. Oil is usually measured in barrels, no? Well, it turns out that's mostly an American thing. There can be 6 to 8 barrels of oil in a ton of oil, depending on density. And whose ton we're talking about. But let's use the lower figure.
The equivalent of Ten Billion tons of oil. Six barrels per ton. Sixty Billion barrels of oil, equivalent.
And I think we now understand why the Chinese want the South China Sea so badly.
David Brown's Folly And The South China Sea, also in Asia Times Online