|South China Sea (Wikimedia)|
David and Goliath: Vietnam Confronts China Over South China Sea Energy Riches
An increasingly fractious maritime confrontation is developing in the South China Sea, with enormous implications for international companies interested in developing East Asia's offshore hydrocarbon resources. Far from the radars of city of London and Wall Street investors, the clash has seen Vietnam emerge as spear carrier for its fellow ASEAN members on the dispute.
Offshore drilling is the most capital-intensive form of exploiting hydrocarbons, but its expense and scarcity has also allowed technically advanced Western companies to drive hard bargains with third world countries over their offshore waters, as they don't have indigenous advanced technical resources nor finances to exploit their maritime wealth.
Accordingly, most countries attempt to procure the best bilateral deals with foreign companies to get a taste of the offshore revenues that come from exploiting their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), which the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLOS) recognized 12 nautical miles as normal for territorial seas and waters and provided international recognition of 200 mile EEZs. On the vexed question of overlapping claims, When an overlap occurs, UNLOS deferred to the competing states to negotiate to delineate their final and actual maritime boundary, with the general principle that any point within an overlapping area defaults to the nearest state.
According to U.S. government statistics, Vietnam's oil and gas industry is currently the country's biggest foreign currency earner and a major procurer of imported technology. Since Vietnam's first oil export shipment in April 1987, crude oil has earned over $17 billion for Vietnam's economy, all of it from offshore production. Vietnam is currently Asian third largest oil producer behind Indonesia and Malaysia.