This Is How Much Oil Is At Stake In The Fight Over The South China Sea

The potential windfall of natural resources could yield more than all of Europe's crude oil reserves combined

The USS Lassen in waters east of the Korean Peninsula in March. — REUTERS
Oct 28, 2015 at 3:39 AM ET

There’s more than strategic shipping routes at stake in the South China Sea. Contested by countries including Taiwan, Vietnam, China and the Philippines, the South China Sea could potentially hold some 11 billion barrels of oil reserves, making it one of the most valuable stretches of water in the world.

Tensions have heightened between China and the United States as Beijing reacted angrily to the presence of a U.S. navy cruise-missile destroyer sailing in territory that China claims as its own. The U.S. has said it would be testing international conventions that allow freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, boundaries cannot be set around artificial islands.

The South China Sea stretches approximately one million square nautical miles between Singapore and Taiwan. China has been working to claim much of the sea through constructing military bases on man-made islands. Over the past year, China has also locked horns with Vietnam, fighting over untapped natural resources on its seabed. Beijing has also erected oil rigs in areas of the sea Vietnam had claimed, infuriating Hanoi.

More China’s Claim On The South China Sea Sparks Global Tension

Almost a third of global crude oil and over half of global liquefied natural gas is pumped through the South China Sea every year, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reports. Some experts say the ratcheting up of military activity is less about the fight for oil and more about establishing a precedent in the South China Sea for enforcing international law, and being able to control strategic shipping routes in the region.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter confirmed Tuesday that the Navy Destroyer had passed within 12 miles of the man-made islands in the Spratly arhipelago that China claims as its territory. The Chinese foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest the action.