Taipei, May 9 (CNA) China started deep-water drilling operations in the South China Sea on Wednesday for the first time, a move that a military expert interpreted as part of a two-pronged strategy to strengthen China's position in the controversial region, a Singaporean newspaper reported.
Lianhe Zaobo said the sixth-generation semi-submersible CNOOC 981, owned by China National Offshore Oil Corp., began drilling in an area 320 km southeast of Hong Kong in waters 1,500 meters deep.
The Chinese-language newspaper said this marked the official beginning of China's deep-water oil exploration in the South China Sea area, which is believed to hold vast deposits of natural gas and oil.
Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all claim large parts of the South China Sea.
The move indicated that China will now adopt a two-pronged approach, underscoring its sovereignty claim in the South China Sea on the diplomatic front and exploring the sea area, the newspaper said, citing a military expert in Beijing who asked not to be named.
The expert said that since a standoff between China and the Philippines over a disputed island in the South China Sea began a month ago, China has not only completed preparations against the Philippines, it has also stepped up exploration of the area's rich mineral resources to strengthen its position.
The expert said that in light of China's superior military power, he was not expecting any large-scale military conflict.
The expert said he is more concerned about the effect of China's exploration of the resources in the South China Sea than the standoff over Huangyan Island, also called the Scarborough Shoal.
With its more advanced oil drilling technology, China could explore other controversial sea areas, which could result in conflicts with the Philippines and Vietnam, the expert said.
Meanwhile, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Philippines' incitement of its people to demonstrate against China has resulted in a strong response from the Chinese people.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying , in talks with Philippine officials Monday, elaborated on China's stance regarding Huangyan Island, but China noted that the Philippines has continued to issue strong statements and incite its people to damage bilateral relations, the spokesman said.
Hong said that China hopes peace would return to the Huangyan Island area that Chinese fishermen would be able to operate in their "traditional fishing grounds."
China is hoping to solve the current problem through diplomatic channels and hopes the Philippines can respond to its concerns and "return to a normal track," Hong said.
Since the Huangyan Island standoff began a month ago, China has dispatched more vessels to the area to escort its fishing boats and recently raised its national flag on Huangyan to highlight its sovereignty claim, according to media reports.
(By Tang Pei-chun, Chiu Kuo-chiang,and Lilian Wu)