By Pepe Escobar

August 01, 2016 “Information Clearing House” – There’s a blue hole in the South China Sea. Longdong («Dragon Hole») is an astonishing 300,89 meters deep, in deep blue waters around Yongle, a major coral reef in the Paracel islands (or Xisha, in their Chinese denomination).

Cynics may argue that after the recent ruling in The Hague largely against China’s «nine-dash line», the whole South China Sea would be more like a black – not blue – geopolitical hole, where serious turbulence is all but inevitable.

I have examined before how the South China Sea’s history is now colliding with imperatives derived from the Westphalian system, and how the US’s «pivot to Asia» is accelerating conflict. I have also examined how the US Navy’s obsession with «access» actually tramples which sovereign nation is entitled to profit from the surrounding waters of a bunch of islands or «rocks».

He examinado antes como la historia del Sur del Mar de la China esta ahora chocando con los imperativos derivados del sistema Wesfaliano, y como la iniciativa norteamericana (de proteger y militarizar la region asiatica cercana a China) esta acelerando el conflicto.   He examinado tambien como la obsesion de la Marina de los EEUU de “tener acceso” a la region en realidad violenta la soberania nacional y podria beneficiarse con las aguas adyacentes a un grupo de islas o “piedras.”

And then, there’s that inescapable logic that envelops all energy wars: «It’s the oil, stupid».

Y entonces, resalta la inescapable logica que rodea todas las guerras sobre energia: “es el petroleo, estupido.”

Into the deep blue

The current territorial dispute centered between China and the Philippines – much more than between China and ASEAN – and revolving around what is prescribed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), will be ultimately solved by a straightforward decision.

La actual disputa entre China y las Filipinas—mas que entre China y el grupo de naciones ASEA—y girando en torno de lo que es descrito por la Convencion de la ONU sobre la Ley del Mar, sera a resumidas cuentas resuelta por medio de una decision directa.

Manila will have to decide between following The Hague’s ruling to the letter; or to back down, de facto, on sovereignty to the benefit of making gains, sooner rather than later, on energy security – and in partnership with the Chinese. Filipino President Duterte has already given signs that he will opt for pragmatism.

Manila tendra que decidir entre darle seguimiento al fallo de la corte en La Haya; o retroceder en cuanto a su soberania para obtener beneficios, pronto mas que tarde, sobre seguridad energetica–y en sociedad con los chinos.  El Presidente Filipino Duterte ya ha dado seniales de que optara por el pragmatismo.

CNOOC and other Chinese oil majors are going no holds barred to exploit oil and gas in the South China Sea. But there’s a huge catch. The absolute majority of geoscientists – for instance, Singapore-based members of the Southeast Asia Petroleum Exploration Society (SEAPEX) – agree that most of the energy resources are actually outside of China’s «nine-dash line», thus nowhere near those disputed rocks, reefs, and «low tide-elevations».

La absoluta mayoria de geocientificos—por ejemplo, los miembros de la Sociedad de Exploracion Petrolera del Sudeste Asiatico con sede en Singapur–coinciden en que la mayor parte de los recursos energeticos se encuentran fuera del area de China, es decir, ni siquiera cerca de las disputadas piedras, arrecifes y partes de marea baja.

Only a few places in the Spratly islands would qualify as a good deal. Essentially, in the deep, deep water – much deeper, at 6,000 meters, than the «Dragon Hole» – what exists is oceanic crust; no source rock for oil and gas; and worse, no reservoirs in which oil and gas could accumulate.

The US Energy Information Administration estimated three years ago that the South China Sea contains only 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of gas as «commercially viable» reserves.

La Administracion de Informacion de Energia de los EEUU estimo hace tres anios que el Mar del Sur de la China contiene solamente 11,000 millones de barriles de petroleo y 190 billones de pies cubicos de gas,

As a comparison, that would be similar to all the oil that exits in Mexico. Or in Western Europe (without considering Russia, of course). And this applies to the whole South China Sea – including areas that undisputedly belong to some of the littoral nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

Esa cantidad seria equivalente a todo el petroleo que sale de Mexico, o de Europa Occidental sin contar a Rusia por supuesto.   Y eso incluye a todo el Sur del Mar de la China.

For the Philippines – or even Vietnam – that could be a game-changer. But not for China. Even if all that energy would be shipped in bulk to China in the near future, it would be good enough for only a few years of consumption.

Para las Filipinas o hasta para Vietnam—eso tendria un buen impacto pero no para China.   Y aunque toda esa energia fuera enviada a China en un futuro cercano, solo seria suficiente para un par de anios de consumo.

The South China Sea is actually more crucial as privileged transit sea lanes for over a third of global oil and half of global liquefied natural gas (LNG). At least 10% – and rising – of China’s total energy consumption travels the South China Sea.

El Sur del Mar de la China es en realidad mas crucial como transito comercial en una ruta maritima que se usa para el traslado de una tercera parte del petroleoel mundo y la mitad del gas liquido mundial.  Cuando menos el 10 %—-y sigue creciendo— la energia total que requiere la China, es transportada a traves del Sur del Mar de la China.

But why the obsession with underwater energy exploitation remains?

Pero entonces ?porque la obsesion con la exploracion de energia bajo el agua?

Got HYSY 981, will travel

Once again we need to go back to the Chinese concept of «mobile sovereignty». Enter the Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981) deepwater oil-drilling rig. HYSY 981 has been famously described by none other than the head of CNOOC, Wang Yilin, as a «strategic weapon» part of China’s «mobile national sovereignty». Arguably hard-boiled Pentagon analysts would appreciate the concept.

Para saber la respuesta es necesario examinar el concepto chino de “soberania movil.” Los chinos poseen un equipo de perforacion petrolera submarino llamado Haiyang Shiyou 981 (descrito por algunos oficiales como una arma secreta).

So when CNOOC uses HYSY 981, there’s no need to «occupy» an island, a rock, a reef, surrounding waters, whichever way UNCLOS may choose to describe them. You move your «strategic weapon» to a disputed patch of the sea; do your deep sea exploring; extract what you can; and then move back to international waters. The only thing you need is a hand from the Chinese Navy to protect you for a short period of time – for instance, from the Vietnamese Navy. And if the going gets tough, you can always pull back as a gesture of goodwill.

China no necesita “ocupar” una isla, un arrecife, aguas adjacentes, o como quieran describirlos.  Sencillamente llevan su “arma secreta” a un area en disputa en el mar; hacen las perforaciones necesarias; extraen lo que pueden; y luego se mueven a las aguas internacionales.   Solo necesitan ayuda/proteccion  temporal  de la Marina China.   Y si la cosa se pone dificil, pueden retirarse en senial de buena voluntad. 

Few in the West may know it, but China now is building and deploying way more HYSY 981s than military hardware. Welcome to the Asian, underwater version of «Drill, baby, Drill». Muy poca gente en occidente podra saberlo pero China esta construyendo mas HYSY 981 que pertrechos militares.  Bienvenido a la version asiatica de “perfora, nene. perfora.”

As far as the energy equation is concerned, China’s relentless island-building in what UNCLOS defined as «rocks», and the «Drill, baby, Drill» offensive point to the Holy Grail of China’s energy security: escape from Malacca, the imperative that a crucial choke point controlled by the US Navy must be progressively avoided.

En cuanto a la ecuacion energetica, la incansable tarea de construir islas en la ofensiva “perfora, nene, perfora,” apunta a la formula magica de China para obtener energia; el escape de Malacca, el imperativo de evadir ese lugar controlado por la marina norteamericana.

It does not matter that not a whole lot of oil and gas will be found in the South China Sea. What matters that it is part of a very long term web strategy – through which Beijing invests in setting up chains/infrastructure all the way from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific to guarantee/protect its trade/energy supply.

No importa si encuentra mucho petroleo o gas en el Sur del Mar de la China.  Lo que es significativo es de que es parte de una larga telarania estrategica—por medio de la cual Beijing esta armando cadenas/infraestructura desde al Oceano Indico hasta el Oceano Pacifico occidental para garantizar/proteger su comercio y provisionamiento de energia.

And that’s what the Sun Tzu-like concept of «mobile sovereignty» is all about.

Y de eso se trata ese concepto de “seguridad movil” al estilo de Sun Tzu.

Pepe Escobar es un periodista, escritor y analista geopolitico independiente/ Pepe Escobar is an Independent geopolitical analyst, writer and journalist.


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regensordo · 1 day ago

The oil junkies the world over will be the death of the ruling classes unless the masses wake up and push back.

My recent post The Glass Ceiling: Obscuring the Light at the End of the Tunnel or the Prison Ceiling Above?



Fitzhenrymac · 1 day ago

Whilst I agree with most of what Pepe says, here is some additional information that might shed light on the whole situation not just spotlight China.

See China’s current oil drilling at, http://www.cnoocltd.com/col/col7311/index.html

Under Chinese law, CNOOC may acquire a 51-percent stake in any joint venture in the event of commercial discovery. Chevron and Eni work with CNOOC in the CACT Operators Group on offshore oilfields in South China Sea.

China’s CNOOC worldwide joint ventures, http://www.cnoocltd.com/col/col7321/index.html

On Vietnam:

Despite the Vietnam War, Vietnam today is one of the most pro-American countries in Southeast Asia. Trade agreements include arms and nuclear fuel and technology.

The US Coast Guard trains the Vietnamese Coast Guard even patrols its coast at times. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_Coast_Guard (Note that this link is six years old)

If you look at the satellite image from the latest spat between China and Vietnam in April this year, you will see that the CNOOC rig is closer to China than Vietnam. See link. http://thediplomat.com/2016/04/vietnam-to-china-m….

It’s presently off Hainan Island (China) – you can track its movements when in GPS range at this website. You can also see the border of Vietnam and that both Vietnam and China have rights to the Gulf of Tonkin. http://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships….

But the big hidden issue is who is already drilling in the South China sea, who with, and the estimated conventional hydrocarbon production.

There are a lot of familiar names there.


1 reply · active 1 day ago


Fitzhenrymac · 1 day ago

I notice one of the links doesn’t work. Perhaps this one will. http://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships…



mot · 1 day ago

Obviously a limited recovery op, China needs a stopgap until the China, RU, IR & possibly SY & IQ rail/pipeline is built.
So they will pump the SCS w/ their “western” partners dry.
That’s the end of the partnership.
Overlooked are the mineral nodules, which can’t be economically done from the surface.
Subsurface drone mining…all done by China(no investment opportunity on offer)
Read it and weep.


1 reply · active 1 day ago


Fitzhenrymac · 1 day ago

Actually exploration is going on in all oceans by a great many countries. See link below for the mid Pacific. click on the map and then the details to find which countries are involved there. https://www.isa.org.jm/deep-seabed-minerals-contr…

China is racing to catch up with the west in sea floor mining. This is largely because it was slow to recognize the opportunities and prevented from buying the latest GPS and exploration equipment.

Of course the main problem is the damage any mining is going to do to the living creatures in the oceans.



Jim · 1 day ago

The Chinese are not dumb. They are all over the world and drilling for oil.
What they should do is learn Nicholas Tesla invention and harvest the universe.
That would stop all the oil wars. That is the technology this greedy world should be investing,


1 reply · active 13 hours ago


Mike · 13 hours ago

That loony fantasy that Tesla found magic energy from the Universe, if that’s true no amount of conspiracies would be able to suppress that. Tesla was an electrical genius, but please enough of making geniuses like gods that know everything and that their super knowledge will deliver us in to paradise.


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