Russia: Another Great Power Interested in the South China Sea?

Huong Le Thu, Sunny Cao

In October, during his second official visit to Russia, 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, is no stranger to the South China Sea. It became an operator of a joint project for gas production and exploration in Block 06.1 in the Nam Con Son Basin, off the coast of Vietnam, back in 2013. 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.

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. Block 06.1, which lies within Vietnam’s EEZ, also falls within China’s self-proclaimed nine-dash line. Beijing’s policy on resource projects in the South China Sea has been clear and consistent: ‘no country, organization, company or individual can, without the permission of the Chinese government, carry out oil and gas exploration and exploitation activities in waters under Chinese jurisdiction’. Yet, despite continued warnings, Rosneft has not stopped its operations.

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