Geopolitik Energi

April 12, 2007


China, Philippines, and Vietnam Agree to Conduct Joint Seismic Studies

The territorial dispute took an interesting turn in August 2004, when Manila announced that, in a departure from previous practice, it would no longer oppose exploration for hydrocarbon deposits in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.54 This announcement paved the way for a landmark agreement between Manila and Beijing to conduct seismic studies in the South China Sea, in order to identify areas for oil and gas exploration. The agreement – known as the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) – was signed during Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s state visit to the PRC during 1-3 September 2004, and provides for a three-year study to be undertaken by the Philippines’ state-owned oil company Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) and China’s state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).55 Manila emphasized the JMSU was a “pre-exploration” study and would not involve any drilling in disputed waters. According to Manila, the JMSU can be classified as “marine scientific research” and is therefore covered by paragraph five of the DoC.56

The Sino-Philippine JMSU represented a 180-degree turn on the part of Manila, which had previously advocated a united-ASEAN front in the face of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. Several reasons account for this change of policy. First, as mentioned earlier, Manila has identified the spiraling cost of oil as a threat to national security. Given that oil prices are likely to remain high for the foreseeable future, Manila believes it is imperative to exploit energy resources in its own backyard. Second, as Ralf Emmers has argued, by the turn of the twenty-first century, the South China Sea dispute had reached a status quo, with none of the disputants possessing the military power to enforce their claims.57 However, since the early 1990s China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been undergoing a major modernization program, resulting in both quantitative and qualitative improvements.58 Within a decade or less, the PLAN will be in a far stronger position to enforce China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. Before this occurs, it’s better to lock the PRC into joint exploration and exploitation agreements. Third, since coming to power in 2001, President Arroyo has made rejuvenation of the Philippine economy her government’s number one priority. Increasingly Manila views the PRC as the regional economic dynamo that can help pull the Philippines out of its economic malaise. The JMSU can thus be seen as a measure aimed at improving Sino-Philippine relations, long strained by the Spratlys dispute.

Initially Vietnam condemned the JMSU as a violation of the DoC. However, it later entered into negotiations with the Philippines and China, and on 14 March 2005 the three state-owned oil companies of the PRC, the Philippines, and Vietnam (PNOC, CNOOC, and PetroVietnam) signed a new JMSU to jointly prospect for oil and gas in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.59 Although the JMSU is a secret document, according to China’s People’s Daily the three-year agreement covers an area of 143,000 square kilometers and will cost an estimated US$15 million (to be split equally among the three companies).60 According to officials at the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the JMSU provides for a Joint Operating Committee (JOC) composed of executives from the three state-owned energy companies, plus technical experts, and will meet three times per year.61 In August 2005 the JOC awarded its first contract to China Oilfield Services Ltd. (COS), a subsidiary of CNOOC, to undertake a two-dimensional seismic exploration project.62 Further contracts are expected to be awarded soon. After the three-year study is complete, the JOC will review the data collected and suggest policy options for further exploration and possibly exploitation.

President Arroyo hailed the JMSU as a “historic diplomatic breakthrough for peace and security in the region” while Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo called it “a model setting approach for the complex issues in the South China Sea, and a step that brings the parties closer toward the peaceful permanent and complete resolution of the territorial disputes and overlapping maritime boundaries in the area”.63 China’s People’s Daily lauded the agreement as putting into practice the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s proposal to shelve sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea and engage in joint exploration and exploitation.64

Does the JMSU represent a profound breakthrough in the long-running territorial dispute? At this stage it is too early to tell. On the one hand, the JMSU represents a willingness to put aside competing sovereignty claims and engage in joint exploration for much needed energy resources. As such, it is an important CBM envisaged by the 2002 DoC. An encouraging sign is that none of the other disputants – i.e. Malaysia, Brunei, or Taiwan – has objected to the JMSU (according to the Philippine DFA, all ASEAN members have been briefed on the agreement’s contents).65 On the other hand, the three disputants have emphasized that the JMSU is a commercial agreement that does not change their basic territorial claims. The real difficulties will come after the three-year survey is completed, and the disputants have to decide how the project is to move forward. The difficult questions that they will have to deal with will include: How is joint exploitation to be conducted? How are costs and profits to be shared? What role should the other disputants play? How these questions are answered will decide whether the South China Sea will become a “sea of friendship and cooperation” or a continued source of interstate tension. The exigencies of energy security are sure to play an important role in the positions the disputants ultimately adopt.


  1. Bung,

    Bagus euy blognya…
    Kebetulan saya juga tertarik dengan isu-isu hubungan internasional dan internasional politik.
    Coba dong, ulas teori politik internasional punya Kenneth Waltz

    Comment by sholi — August 31, 2007 @ 10:22 am | Reply

  2. bagus…tpi bahasa inggrisnya itu loh,, pegel bacanya!!

    Comment by indah — April 16, 2008 @ 6:08 am | Reply

  3. fuck bgt malaysia

    Comment by wahyi — March 19, 2009 @ 8:05 am | Reply

  4. Outstanding article!! Will come back soon.

    Comment by DescuemDerb — May 20, 2009 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  5. Hancurkan malaysia, fuck jöngos britis.

    Comment by Merah putih — June 4, 2009 @ 5:18 am | Reply

  6. Sdh taon 2009, Malay’sin’ masih aj nyolek2 Ambalat,Ooi..INA tegaz dong… Gayang Malaysia…:-(

    Comment by Nieki — June 4, 2009 @ 10:26 am | Reply

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    Comment by cata — June 13, 2009 @ 7:58 am | Reply

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