South China Sea: Putin moves to support the Philippines and Vietnam against Beijing’s plan


RUSSIA has been invited by the Philippines to explore for oil in a vast area of the South China Sea claimed by Beijing.

The development will frustrate China’s attempts to secure ownership of the lucrative zone within its nine dash line, the proportion of the sea bed that Beijing has allocated for itself. In October Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte invited Moscow-based energy company Rosneft to conduct oil and gas exploration in waters the Philippines claims in the South China Sea. The offer was reciprocated by the Russian ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Khovaev, who invited Philippine companies to also “explore oil and gas in Russia together with Russian companies”.

A team from Rosneft went to Manila later that month to discuss the possibility of joint offshore oil exploration with the Philippines Department of Energy.

Rosneft, which is half-owned by the Russian government, has also become a major operator of a joint project for gas production and exploration in the Nam Con Son Basin, off the coast of Vietnam.

Since 2018, it has also been working with Vietnam to expand gas development projects in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, including drilling two new wells in the area.

The news comes as a leaked photo given to a Filipino newspaper showed just how elaborate the developments on military bases in the South China Sea have been.

Some photographs showed cargo ships and supply vessels, which the newspaper said appeared to be delivering construction materials to the China-controlled islands.

Others show runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multi-storey buildings that China has built on reefs.

But, defence analyst Robert Farley outlined in his article for National Interest last year that these bases, while heavily resourced, could have crucial strategic flaws.

Firstly, Mr Farley argues that while some of the Chinese-controlled islands are armed with missile systems, they may not be in the best environment to be fully effective.

He highlights that land-based missiles survive air attack because they can hide among natural cover such as hills and forests, but this is lacking in the Spratly Islands.

Furthermore, the airfields built by China would also struggle in the event of a conflict, as the Spratly Chain’s remote location would make the gathering of repair resources difficult.

In the context of China’s increasing pressure on the other South China Sea claimants, however, Rosneft’s activities have recently drawn the attention of Beijing.

Perhaps even more crucial, China’s Island bases would struggle in naval combat given that they are unable to move during combat, while enemy ships would benefit from mobility.