Depending on who you believe, the South China Sea could be the next Persian Gulf due to its untapped oil and gas deposits. It’s also a key shipping lane that the US Navy has guarded for decades. That’s why so many countries are sparring over remote islands and territorial waters in these waters…
Neither Cambodia nor Thailand are claimants to South China Sea islands. Their offshore energy dispute concerns oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Siam, which lies to the east (left of the map). These fields are the main source of feedstock for Thailand’s petrochemical industry. Cambodia has yet to extract any oil from its own shores (extravagant claims notwithstanding). One reason is that its undersea reserves are thought to be fairly modest and foreign oil companies won’t bite without a bigger field….
If anything, Cambodia has more at stake because it is wholly reliant on imported fuel and still represents a risky market for oil companies. Thailand has more options, and its jointly-adminstered gas field with Malaysia can probably be expanded. But it also needs to maintain a reliable supply to its downstream industries, so its needs are much greater than Cambodia’s….
Simon Montlake, Forbes Staff