CNOOC to offer S. China Sea oil blocks for exploitation

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China National Offshore Oil Corporation, China's third largest oil company, said Monday it will issue tender seeking joint exploitation for nine offshore blocks in the South China Sea.

The nine blocks total more than 160,000 square kilometers and 300-4,000 meters deep, according to a statement on CNOOC's website.

Seven blocks are located in the Zhongjianan Basin and two in areas covering parts of the Wan'an and Nanweixi basins, the company said.

The move comes amid tension between the Philippines and China over the disputed Huangyan Island.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a press briefing yesterday that the tender project was a "normal business activity" in compliance with relevant Chinese laws and international practices, in response to a question that whether the company's decision would worsen situation in the South China Sea.

He said China repeated its call for Vietnam to respect bilateral agreements regarding maritime disputes and to halt its gas exploitation program.

"China and Vietnam have reached many agreements regarding the settlement of maritime disputes.

"We hope Vietnam will respect these agreements and avoid taking any action that may complicate the matter," Hong said.

"China's position on disputes regarding the South China Sea remains unchanged. We are committed to properly settling disputes through negotiations and joint exploitation," he added.

Vietnam's National Assembly last Thursday passed the "Vietnamese Law of the Sea," which describes China's Xisha Islands and Nansha Islands in the South China Sea as being within Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction.

Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun subsequently summoned Vietnamese Ambassador to China Nguyen Van Tho to lodge a complaint over the matter. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress, China's top legislature, has also sent a letter to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Vietnamese National Assembly to voice its opposition to the law.

Meanwhile, four China Marine Surveillance ships sailed from the coastal city of Sanya to the South China Sea yesterday to conduct regular patrols.

According to an unnamed CMS official, the team is expected to travel more than 2,400 nautical miles (4,500 kilometers) during the patrols, adding that formation drills will be conducted "if maritime conditions permit."

The official said regular patrols began in 2006 as part of China's efforts to protect its marine interests.

The CMS, a group under the State Oceanic Administration, is responsible for preventing the illegal use of sea areas and harm to the marine environment and resources, and for maintaining maritime order.

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