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Background Brief: South China Sea: China Opens “Petro Front” Carlyle A. Thayer August 3, 2012

[client name deleted] Question: Some analysts are arguing that China has opened a new front named "petro front," in addition to the diplomatic front and the military front in the South China Sea. What is your assessment? ANSWER: China has obviously reviewed its tactics from last year when cable cutting and intimidation of an oil exploration vessel in the Philippines waters proved counterproductive. Vietnam is seeking to advance its claims to “indisputable sovereignty” much like worms munching mulberry leaves. Each bite by China advances its objective of controlling all the resources within its u-shaped line. China knew in advance that Vietnam’s National Assembly was finally going to pass the Law on the Sea. It lobbied Vietnamese officials strongly not to do so. At the same time China prepared a tit for tat response. Vietnam claimed legal jurisdiction with its Law of the Sea and China responded by offering oil leases on the sea side of its dash line but entirely within Vietnam Exclusive Economic Zone. China is trying to gain the upper hand on legal front. The term “petro front” is more applicable if China brings an oil exploration rig to contested areas in the East Sea/West Philippine Sea and starts operations. This rig would be protected by paramilitary ships. But China has not taken this step so far.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “South China Sea: China Opens ‘Petro Front’,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, August 3, 2012. Thayer Consultancy Background Briefs are archived and may be accessed at:

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