MANILA—China, the Philippines, and Vietnam have signed a landmark agreement to conduct a joint survey of possible oil deposits in areas they all claim in the South China Sea. Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia, which claim the same areas, didn’t have any immediate reaction.
China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC), and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp., also known as PetroVietnam, agreed to design seismic work programs over three years that cover an area of about 143,000 square kms (55,000 square miles).
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo hailed the agreement by the three state-run oil companies as a "diplomatic breakthrough for peace and security in the region."
The agreement stipulates that the oil companies from the three countries will conduct joint research on the potential of oil in the area.
The specific area was not delineated in the agreement, but all three countries have rival claims on the Spratly Islands group in the South China Sea.
"This is a historic event because it is the first, it is the breakthrough in implementing the provisions of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea" that was signed in 2002 by China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Arroyo said
"The agreement stipulates that the oil companies from the three countries will conduct joint research on the potential of oil in the area," Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung said.
Hanoi and Beijing engaged in a brief naval battle over the Spratlys in the 1970s.
The oil firms said the tripartite agreement "will not undermine the basic positions held by their respective governments on the South China Sea issue."
They said the accord would "contribute to the transformation of the South China Sea into an area of peace, stability, cooperation, and development in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2002 ASEAN-China declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea."
Most territorial disputes in the area date to the early or mid-1970s, when the discovery of oil and gas fields around Southeast Asia revived sometimes centuries-old spats.
The South China Sea region, where most of the disputes centre, has proved oil reserves of some 7 billion barrels and production of about 2.5 million barrels per day, a 2003 U.S. government study showed.
A U.S. Geological Survey in 1993-94 estimated discovered and undiscovered resources in the offshore basins of the South China Sea at 28 billion barrels, although only a portion of this would be economically recoverable.