The Emperor is Wearing No Clothes: Beyond Hydrocarbons in the South China Sea

Published:October 3, 2022 – Author: Tabitha Grace Mallory

Feature Map: Biodiversity in the South China Sea

Read the full report

We need only call to mind the first half of 2022 for an array of the extreme, energy-related global challenges we all face. Around the world, local versions of climate change effects—the temperatures, wildfires, droughts, storms, flooding—underscore how important it is for us to transition away from our overdependence on fossil fuels. And our energy sources don’t just have environmental implications but security ones as well. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the latest rendition of the resource curse. At the heart of it all, fossil fuels are what enabled and amplified the murderous narcissism we see in Vladimir Putin and created a country with an unbalanced and unhealthy domestic economy able to profoundly destabilize energy flows and prices around the world.

The South China Sea (SCS) brings together its own assortment of these complex challenges and factors. Competing security concerns, resource needs, and nationalisms shape the motivations of the claimants. Much of the attention and conflict has centred on the oil and gas in the seabed. Estimates of SCS hydrocarbon volumes vary; only some of these resources are proven reserves that have been confirmed and measured, and are actually recoverable. But even in more generous assessments, the SCS only provides us with a small percentage of the global total of oil and gas reserves, and even less of the overall energy mix if we include non-fossil-fuel energy sources.

Beyond hydrocarbons, in a two-way tie with the adjacent Coral Triangle, the SCS has the highest level of marine biodiversity in the world. SCS fisheries feed and employ millions of people in the region. It’s true that conflict over these living marine resources also drives the territorial disputes in the region, and a wide variety of human activity degrades the SCS ecosystem. Yet drilling for hydrocarbons in the SCS threatens this vulnerable marine habitat even more, while also clearly contributing to geopolitical and security tensions in the region—and to climate change.

Given how destabilizing oil and gas pursuits have been for the SCS since the 1970s, we might ask ourselves whether we want to keep drilling for fossil fuels there. Do the costs and risks outweigh the benefits?

Download this 21-page report (button above) from Dr. Tabitha Grace Mallory, an inaugural John H. McArthur Research Fellow, an initiative of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and the Founder of China Ocean Institute and Affiliate Professor, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington.

Below, explore the rich marine biodiversity of the South China Sea, one of the most hotly-contested maritime jurisdictions on the planet, in this original map created by the author and APF Canada graphic designer Chloe Fenemore, based on historical and contemporary maps cited in the full report.

Feature Map: Biodiversity in the South China Sea

Tabitha Grace Mallory

Tabitha Grace Mallory is the Founder of China Ocean Institute and Affiliate Professor, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington. Dr. Mallory specializes in Chinese foreign and environmental policy. She conducts research on China and global ocean governance and has published work on China’s fisheries and oceans policy.

Dr. Mallory is an inaugural John H. McArthur Research Fellow, an initiative of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada launched in 2021 to provide research opportunities for exceptional, mid-career scholars who are working on programs and research areas with direct relevance to Canada and Canada’s interests in Asia.

The Looming Environmental Catastrophe in the South China Sea

Heated maritime and territorial disputes conceal the severe damage being done beneath the waves.

By Murray Hiebert January 14, 2022   

Much of the focus on the South China Sea over the past decade has centered around the nationalistic territorial disputes between China and four Southeast Asian claimants and a geopolitical tussle between China and the United States over freedom of navigation in the contested waters. What is going on beneath the surface of the sea – overfishing, destruction of coral reefs, climate change, plastics pollution, ocean acidification – is equally threatening and may have a longer-term impact on the survivability of the sea with its rich fishing beds, potential gas and oil reserves, and bustling sea lanes.

Tiếp tục đọc “The Looming Environmental Catastrophe in the South China Sea”

Geopolitical standoff in South China Sea leads to environmental fallout

by Leilani Chavez on 12 August 2021

  • Satellite images show significant growth in the occurrence of algal blooms in contested areas in the South China Sea.
  • Images suggest that these algal blooms or phytoplankton overgrowth are linked to the presence of vessels anchored in the area and to island-building activities in the region.
  • While satellite images help give a preview of the ecological state of the South China Sea, on-site observations are necessary to validate the findings, experts say.
  • Decades of territorial and maritime disputes, however, have limited the conduct of studies and dissuaded the establishment of conservation zones in the South China Sea.

Tiếp tục đọc “Geopolitical standoff in South China Sea leads to environmental fallout”

Environmental damage to coral reefs in South China Sea 

Date: February 27, 2020
Source: James Cook University
Summary: New research reveals the unseen environmental damage being done to coral reefs in the hotly contested South China Sea, as China and other nations jostle for control of the disputed sea lanes.

New research reveals the unseen environmental damage being done to coral reefs in the hotly contested South China Sea, as China and other nations jostle for control of the disputed sea lanes.

Professor Eric Wolanski and Dr Severine Chokroun from James Cook University in Australia are physical oceanographers, researching the distribution, circulation, and physical properties of water.

In a new scientific paper, they argue that the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea are in even more serious trouble than first believed.

“The Spratlys are the sites of a military build-up and gross overfishing, mainly by China. Reefs and islands have been destroyed to construct military outposts to further territorial claims,” said Professor Wolanski. Tiếp tục đọc “Environmental damage to coral reefs in South China Sea”

‘Abominable’ will skip theatres in Malaysia, Vietnam due to controversial map of the South China Sea

The film briefly shows the ‘nine-dash line’, which China claims as its territory, though other East Asian countries say it belongs to them

‘Abominable’ is about a teenage Chinese girl named Yi who helps a yeti return to Mount Everest.
Photo: Universal Studios
The animated movie Abominable will skip Malaysian theaters after producers decided against cutting out a scene showing a map supporting Chinese claims to the disputed South China Sea.
Vietnam already pulled the U.S.-Chinese production from theaters over a fleeting image of the so-called nine-dash line, a vague and broken outline depicting much of the resource-rich sea as Chinese territory. China’s claims to the sea overlap with claims by Vietnam, Malaysia and other Asian governments.

Tham mưu trưởng Không quân Mỹ: Chúng tôi tôn trọng quyền của Việt Nam ở Biển Đông

Chủ nhật, 18/8/2019, 22:02 (GMT+7)VnExpress


Hai tướng không quân Mỹ David Goldfein và Charles Brown Jr. hôm nay tới Hà Nội, khẳng định cam kết hợp tác mạnh mẽ với Việt Nam vì ổn định và trật tự ở khu vực.

Đại tướng David Goldfein, Tham mưu trưởng Không quân Mỹ, trong cuộc họp báo chiều nay tại Hà Nội. Ảnh: Hà Trung.

Đại tướng David Goldfein, Tham mưu trưởng Không quân Mỹ, trong cuộc họp báo chiều nay tại Hà Nội. Ảnh: Hà Trung.

“Chúng tôi muốn tôn trọng sự dẫn dắt của Việt Nam và tôn trọng quyền bảo vệ chủ quyền lãnh thổ của Việt Nam. Điều chúng tôi có thể làm là hợp tác với chính phủ Việt Nam”, Đại tướng David Goldfein, Tham mưu trưởng Không quân Mỹ chiều nay trả lời câu hỏi của VnExpress về phản ứng của Mỹ khi Trung Quốc điều tàu khảo sát quay lại vùng biển phía nam Biển Đông của Việt Nam.

Tiếp tục đọc “Tham mưu trưởng Không quân Mỹ: Chúng tôi tôn trọng quyền của Việt Nam ở Biển Đông”


AMT BY  | AUGUST 8, 2019

The Haiyang Dizhi 8, a survey vessel belonging to a Chinese government-run corporation, began surveying a large swath of seabed on July 3 northeast of Vanguard Bank (Bai Tu Chinh) off the coast of Vietnam. The ship was apparently undertaking an oil and gas survey across two blocks, Riji 03 and Riji 27, which fall within Vietnam’s continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The survey ship has been escorted by other vessels, including the China Coast Guard and maritime militia. At the same time, China Coast Guard ships have been harassing Vietnamese drilling operations in Block 06-01 to the south. Tiếp tục đọc “CHINA’S INCURSION INTO VIETNAM’S EEZ AND LESSONS FROM THE PAST”

China’s intimidation in the South China Sea poses an economic threat to Vietnam

Author: Bill Hayton, Chatham HouseVietnam has lost another sea battle: a US$200 million oil and gas development project — known as the ‘Red Emperor’ development — off Vietnam’s southeast coast has been suspended, possibly cancelled. Hanoi’s hopes of a hydrocarbon boost to its stretched government budget have been dashed. And the culprit is Vietnam’s ‘good neighbour, good comrade and good friend’ to the north.

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, 13 June 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Nguyen Minh).

The project, many years in the making, was a joint venture between Repsol of Spain, Mubadala of Abu Dhabi and the state-owned energy company PetroVietnam. Commercial drilling was due to begin this April and oil and gas were expected to flow for at least 10 years. A specialised platform built in the port of Vung Tau lies idle, as do the contracted drilling rig and storage tanker. Tiếp tục đọc “China’s intimidation in the South China Sea poses an economic threat to Vietnam”

Cooperate or South China Sea fisheries may collapse

    • More than half the fishing vessel in the world operate in the South China Sea, where sovereign rights have been an object of fierce contention among bordering countries.
    • Scientists have been warning that the sea is fast becoming the site of an environmental disaster, the impending collapse of one of the world’s most productive fisheries.
    • Now a group of experts that includes geopolitical strategists as well as marine biologists is calling on the disputing parties to come together to manage and protect the sea’s fish stocks and marine environment.
    • Effective management hinges on China’s active participation, but it remains unclear whether that country, now the dominant power in the sea with a big appetite for seafood, will cooperate.

Tiếp tục đọc “Cooperate or South China Sea fisheries may collapse”

Why China is building islands in the South China Sea

Vox_Since 2014, China has been building islands in the middle of the South China Sea. What were once underwater reefs are now sandy islands complete with airfields, roads, buildings, and missile systems. In less than two years, China has turned seven reefs into seven military bases in the South China Sea, one of the most contentious bodies of water in the world.

The sea is one of the most important areas of ocean in the world. It’s estimated to hold 11 billion barrels of oil, 109 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 10 percent of the world’s fisheries. Most importantly, 30 percent of the world’s shipping trade flows through the South China Sea to the busy ports of Southeast Asia. It’s an incredibly important strategic area, and five countries currently claim some part of it.

Most countries base their claims off the

href=””>United Nations Law of the Seas, which says a country’s territory extends 200 miles off its shores, an area called the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. Any trade or resources that fall in a country’s EEZ belong to that country; they’re its sovereign territory. Any area that is not in an EEZ is considered international waters and subject to UN maritime law, meaning it’s shared by everyone. Every country in the region, which includes Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Vietnam, bases its claim to the South China Sea on the UN’s EEZ laws — except China.

China argues it has a historical claim to the South China Sea, dating back to naval expeditions in the 15th century. After World War II, the Japanese Empire lost control of the South China Sea, and China took advantage of the moment to reclaim it. On maps, it started drawing a dashed line that encompassed most of the South China Sea. This line became its official claim and is known today as the Nine-Dash Line, because it always has nine dashes. In 1973, when the UN law established EEZs, China reaffirmed its Nine-Dash Line, refusing to clarify the line’s boundaries and rejecting other countries’ claims.

Since then, tensions have built around who rightfully owns the South China Sea. The dispute has centered on the Spratly Islands, an archipelago at the heart of the South China Sea. Currently, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam claim some part of the Spratly Island chain. They’ve asserted their claims by putting small buildings, ports, and even some people on what are essentially rocks in the middle of the ocean.

But the Spratlys are very important, because whichever country can successfully claim them can extend its EEZ to include them, thus gaining miles of precious sovereign territory. This is why China began building up islands in 2014. By turning these rocks into military bases, the Chinese are now able to support hundreds of ships, bolstering their presence in the region. They are using fishing boats, surveillance ships, and navy destroyers to set up blockades around other countries’ islands and defend their own. This is all done very cautiously and in small steps in order to avoid sparking a wider conflict.

Since China began building islands, the disputes have not become violent. But tensions are building in the region. As China deploys more of its military to the Spratlys, other countries are getting nervous and building up their own islands. It’s a complex situation that will continue to gain international attention, for better or for worse.

ROADMAP về các vấn đề Biển Đông

First posted on on July 13, 2014

Chào các bạn,

Mình viết roadmap này cho các bạn chưa nắm vững các vấn đề tổng quát về Biển Đông có một khái niệm cơ bản những tranh chấp chúng ta đang đối diện và những vấn đề pháp lý và chính trị liên hệ. Các bạn nào có điều gì chưa hiểu, xin cứ hỏi để mình hoàn thiện roadmap.

Roadmap này sẽ nói về Việt Nam, TQ, mà không nói nhiều đến Philippines, Malaysia, và Brunei để giản dị hóa vấn đề.



ROADMAP về các vấn đề Biển Đông


I. Các tranh chấp

1. Hoàng Sa

Tranh chấp giữa VN và TQ và Đài Loan. Việt Nam Cộng Hòa (miền Nam Việt Nam) giữ một nửa, TQ giữ một nửa cho đến khi TQ dùng vũ lực xâm chiếm phần VNCH đang giữ trong trận Hải Chiến Hoàng Sa 1974 mà VNCH mất 74 chiến sĩ. Tiếp tục đọc “ROADMAP về các vấn đề Biển Đông”