An American expert on Asia, Selig S. Harrison, says "derecognizing" Taiwan's oil claims in the East China Sea is a step the United States should take now toward full recognition of Peking.
A U.S. acknowledgement of Peking's claims to China's oil-rich continental shelf. Harrison says, would encourage cooperative oil development between Taiwan and mainland China. Harrison suggests that ending America's "deliberately ambiguous policy" toward U.S. oil companies drilling in the region would also foroestall potential conflict.
Harrison's study is being published today by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"A U.S. policy which began to treat Taiwan as a province of China would be a clear sign of a U.S. commitment to normalization," Harrison told reporters while discussing his book, "China, Oil and Asia: Conflict Ahead?"
Since the Nixon administration began moves toward formal diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China in 1972, oil development in contested areas along China's 8,700-mile continental shelf has been "paralyzed," the study says.
China's offshore claims are also disputed by Japan. Acknowledging China's claims to offshore areas that Taiwan has offered to international oil companies, including American firms, would not only remove a major obstacle to oil development, Harrison says, but could lead to settlement Sino-Japanese claims now stalled by Tokyo's uncertainty about U.S. China policy.
Japan and China both have claimed the Senkaku Islands, which they say have oil potential.
China has claimed offshore areas beyond Taiwan, but has yet to deploy deepwater drilling rigs in these areas. Peking, unlike the Taiwan government, has not entered into production agreements with major oil companies, largely because of its avowed "selfreliance" policy.
Since the early '70s Peking has bought over $110 million in oil-related equipment from American firms alone, and last week announced it would take delivery of a swmi-submersible oil rig from Norway capable of operating in waters up to 1,000 feet deep claimed by Taiwan.
It is just a question of time, Harrison says, before China will be able to move deepwater drilling rigs into disputed areas if it wants to.
Harrison says there is a "better than 50-50 chance" that by 1990 China will produce 8 million barrels of oil a day - about what the United States now produces. This projection is slightly more optimistic than a recent study made public by the Central Intelligence Agency.
"Chinese sources have informally referred to recoverable onshore reserves of at least 10 billion tons (75 billion barrels)," the study says. This would put China on a par with Kuwait and Iran, the second largest producer in the 13-member Organization of Petroluem Exporting Countries. This does not include potential finds on China's outer continental shelf, which is about one-twentieth of the world's total.
Like the CIA, however, Harrison does not expect the Chinese to become a major oil expoeter. Much of this sis due to a shift from coal to oil taking place in the Chinese economy. The exception on exports is Japan; since 1973, oil's share of China's total exports to Japan has increased from 4.3 per cent to over 40 per cent.
Harrison says there is greater potential for cooperation in energy development between Japan and China than between Japan and Russia. Since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, Tokyo and Moscow have conducted a series of talks about joint energy projects; the talks have yet to produce a major agreement.
Following the 1972 visit of President Nixon to China, American-Japanese cooperation resulted in the unpublicized sale of a "jack-up drilling rig capable of operating in up to 600 feet of water.
Harrison sees the "growing network of political and economic tradeoffs between Tokyo and Peking" as key to the settlement of the conflicting claims along China's continental shelf.
A smiliar offshore oil dispute between South and North Korea could also result in a regional conflict, according to Harrison.$"The North Vietnameses decision to open a full-scale offensive against Saigon in 1975 coveries that made the Thieu regime more credit-worthy and gave it an economic basis for survival despite its political weakness," the study says.
While Harrison does not expect a similar reacation on the part of North Korea, he says that an oil dispute "could become a significant tension point" in Korea. Thus far the State Department has alerted U.S. oil companies to potential problems in drilling in South Korean waters claimed by China, but has not advised companies against drilling in waters along the South Korean coast-line.