By Eric Watkins
LOS ANGELES, April 17 – If anyone thinks the US and its partners are not concerned about oil in the South China Sea, they need to think again. This week, the armed forces of the US and the Philippines began a 12-day joint exercise in the region, and oil is very much on their agenda.
The area stretching from the Indian Ocean to the US Pacific coast contains half the world’s people and many of its most dynamic trade and energy routes, US Secretary of Defense Hilary Clinton said in a speech just last week.
In her Forrestal Lecture given at the US Naval Academy, Clinton specifically mentioned the South China Sea, saying that it connects many of the region’s nations, several of which have competing claims on its waters and islands.
Not least, Clinton added that the stakes are high for maritime security and navigational freedom, as half the world’s merchant tonnage flows through the South China Sea. To help ensure that flow, Clinton noted that the US is deploying state-of-the-art ships to Singapore.
Clinton’s speech came just a week or so ahead of the 28th round of US-Philippine joint exercises, known as Balikatan, which this year are being staged off Palawan Island in the South China Sea, and nearby waters.
The region is near the Spratly islands, a cluster of islands, reefs and atolls rich in fishing and also thought to contain huge deposits of oil and natural gas.
The area, as Clinton noted, is subject to overlapping claims: wholly by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Altogether, some 4,500 US military officers and men from the US Pacific Command and 2,300 from the Philippines are taking part in the 12 days of drills that include amphibious assault, field training and command post exercises.
RETAKING AN OIL PLATFORM
Another exercise will focus on how to “retake” an oil and gas platform in the South China Sea from “terrorists.” That has prompted speculation that the exercise simulates protection of the disputed Reed Bank off Palawan Province when Manila starts drilling for gas there this year.
“Given the international situation we are in, I say that this exercise is a timely and mutually beneficial event for us,” said Gen. Jessie Dellosa, the Philippine Armed Forces chief of staff, at an opening ceremony of the war games.
Dellosa did not mention the South China Sea, saying merely the Philippines remains “in the shadow of doubt pertaining to certain international issues other nations in the world are also concerned with at the moment.”
“As the chief institution mandated to protect our people, uphold our territorial integrity and defend this country’s sovereignty, we must be wary about this issue,” Dellosa said.
Yes, in the South China Sea these days, they’re exercising vigilance.
© Glamma Productions 2012