China has drilled deep into the South China Sea to extract sediment core from the seabed, according to state media, amid tensions with rival claimants Taiwan and the Philippines over contested waters and as the US raises its naval presence in the area.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, Chinese scientists on a marine research vessel used China’s homemade Sea Bull II drilling device to acquire a sediment core 231 meters (757 feet) long at a depth of 2,060 meters (6,760 feet).
According to Xinhua, the device will aid in the exploration of natural gas hydrate deposits on the seabed, which are solid ice-like crystals created from a mixture of methane and water and touted as a promising source of energy.
It was unclear precisely where the drilling took place in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims as its territorial waters to the tune of 90%. The allegation has been found without legal basis by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Brunei all claim territory in the sea, which is rich in oil and gas.
Tensions in the region have escalated in recent weeks following revelations that 200 Chinese “maritime militia” vessels have been amassing at Whitsun Reef, about 320 kilometres (200 miles) west of Palawan Island and within the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Since then, the US has sent a Navy strike group to the South China Sea, headed by the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which arrived on Sunday.
The US has also deployed the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island to access the busy sea lane via the Strait of Malacca, according to a South China Morning Post newspaper article on Friday.
The USS San Diego, an amphibious transport dock, was reportedly included in the party, according to the newspaper, which cited details from the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative.
The US has defended its latest naval activities calling it a “routine” transit and in accordance with the “freedom of navigation” principle.
On Friday, it was also reported that Chinese military vessels gave chase on Thursday to a Filipino vessel with civilians and journalists on board with the Philippines’ EEZ, according to the Manila-based television station, ABS-CBN.