China has drilled deep into the South China Sea to recover sediment cores from the seabed, state media reported, amid tensions over the contested waters with rival claimants Taiwan and the Philippines, as states United are strengthening their naval presence in the region.
Chinese scientists aboard a marine research vessel used China’s Sea Bull II drilling system to obtain a 231-meter (757-foot) long sediment core at a depth of 2,060 m (6,760 feet), according to the Xinhua official news agency on Thursday.
The system can help explore the natural gas hydrate resources in the seabed, Xinhua added, referring to the solid ice-like crystals formed from a mixture of methane and water which are touted as a promising source of energy.
It is not known exactly where the drilling took place in the South China Sea, about 90% of which is claimed by Beijing as its territorial waters. The International Court of Arbitration in The Hague declared this claim to be devoid of legal basis.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei also claim parts of the sea, which have vast oil and gas potential.
Tensions in the region have escalated in recent weeks following revelations that 200 Chinese ships of the “maritime militia” accumulated at Whitsun Reef, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Palawan Island and in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
Since then, the United States has deployed a Navy strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which entered the South China Sea on Sunday.
According to a South China Morning Post report on Friday, the United States also deployed the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island to enter the busy seaway through the Strait of Malacca.
The group also reportedly included the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego, the publication reported, citing information from the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Survey Initiative.
The United States defended its latest naval activities by calling it a “routine” transit and in accordance with the principle of “freedom of navigation”.
It was also reported on Friday that Chinese military ships chased a Philippine ship along with civilians and journalists aboard the Philippine EEZ on Thursday, according to Manila-based ABS-CBN TV channel.
“All options are open”
The Philippines, an American ally that has developed closer ties with Beijing since the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, has expressed concern in recent days about the presence of Chinese ships in its EEZ.
The Philippine Defense Department said on Thursday it was keeping “all of our options open” as Manila’s diplomatic dispute with Beijing grew.
“As the situation (in the South China Sea) evolves, we are keeping all of our options open to handle the situation, including leveraging our partnerships with other countries such as the United States,” said Thursday. Philippine Department of Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong.
The Foreign Office has also pledged to lodge a diplomatic protest daily until Chinese ships leave Whitsun Reef.
Autonomous Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has also threatened to shoot down Chinese drones spotted around the Taipei-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea.
In recent days, tensions in the Taiwan Strait have also intensified, with the Autonomous Democratic Island reporting on Wednesday that 15 more planes from the mainland have entered Taiwan’s air defense zone.
Taipei has warned it will defend itself “until the last day” if necessary.
Chinese carrier Liaoning also conducted a naval exercise near Taiwan on Monday, and Beijing said such exercises will become regular events.
China’s oil and gas exploration activities in the South China Sea have already fueled tensions, including when the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) deployed a drilling rig in deep water in waters claimed by Vietnam in 2014.
A third of world trade estimated at more than $ 3 trillion passes through the South China Sea each year.