The United States has stepped up its naval presence in the region amid tensions over disputed waters with rival Taiwan and the Philippines, state media reported, as China drilled deep into the South China Sea to recover silt from the coast.
Chinese scientists aboard the marine research ship used China’s homemade Sea Bull II drilling system to get the original 231 meters (75,757 feet) of a 230-meter (75,760-foot) long polyclinic, Xinhua reported on Thursday.
Xinhua added that solid ice-like crystals from a mixture of methane and water have been identified as promising sources of energy, adding that the system could help explore the natural gas hydrate resources of the coast.
It was not clear exactly where the drilling took place in the South China Sea, about 90 percent of which Beijing claims as its territorial waters. The International Court of Arbitration in The Hague has declared the claim legally unfounded.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei also claim parts of the ocean where there is huge potential for oil and gas.
Tensions in the region have risen sharply in recent weeks following the revelations 200 Chinese “marine militia” ships Gathered at Whitson Reef, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Palawan Island and within the exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
Since then, the U.S. has deployed a naval strike group led by Theodore Roosevelt to the U.S., which entered the South China Sea on Sunday.
A report published in the South China Morning Post on Friday said the US had also deployed the USS Makin Island to enter the busy sea lanes through the Malacca Strait.
The group also included the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego, according to the report, citing data from the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Test Initiative.
The United States has termed its most recent naval operations as a “routine” transit and adheres to the “freedom of navigation” policy.
‘All options open’
The Philippines, an ally of the United States that has forged closer ties with Beijing since President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, has recently expressed concern about the presence of Chinese ships in the EEZ.
The Philippine Defense Ministry said on Thursday that it was keeping “all our options open” as Manila’s diplomatic dispute with Beijing escalated.
“As the situation develops (in the South China Sea), we have all our options open to managing the situation, including the use of our partnership with other nations, such as the United States,” Philippine Defense Department spokesman Arsenio Andlong said on Thursday.
The State Department has promised to hold daily diplomatic protests until Chinese ships leave the Whitson Reef.
China claims self-governing Taiwan as its own territory, threatening to shoot down Chinese Chinese drones as they surround Taipei-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea.
In recent days, tensions have also risen among Taiwanese pirates, the self-governing Democratic Island reported on Wednesday that 15 more planes from mainland have crossed Taiwan’s air defenses.
Taipei warned that it would protect itself “until the last day” if necessary.
On Monday, Chinese carrier Liaoning also led a naval exercise near Taiwan and Beijing that such national exercises would take place regularly.
China’s oil and gas exploration activities in the South China Sea had previously escalated tensions, notably when the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNUCE) in 2014 arranged for deep water drilling in Vietnam-claimed waters.
One-third of world trade goes through the South China Sea annually, more than 3 3 trillion.