Geophysical data indicate that the Chinese continental shelf may be one of the world's most promising oil regions. The development of its petroleum resources is believed to have comparatively high priority in the People's Republic of China. Despite boundary conflicts and the recent anti-western trend in China it is believed that there is a promising market for Western offshore equipment and services.


"The continental shelf between Taiwan and Japan may be one of the most prolific oil reservoirs in the world. It also is one of the few large continental shelves of the world that has remained untested by drilling in consequence of military and political factors,..." (1)

This concluding statement by Wage man, Hilde and Emery in the AAPG Bulletin of September 1970 summarized the findings of the first major scientific survey of the Chinese continental shelf. More than 12,000 km of continuous seismic reflecting profiling, magnetic, and bathymetric data had been recorded during October and November 1968 aboard the R/V Hunt. Assistance had been provided to the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) in its reconnaissance explorations for potential mineral resources by inviting several Asian scientists to participate in the survey.

New interest in the Chinese continental shelf was aroused on the part of all bordering nations as a result of the survey. Already in early 1969, only few months after the return of the R/V Hunt, a Japanese ship surveyed the shelf in more detail in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands (see fig. 3), 240 miles west of Okinawa. This survey was sponsored directly by Prime Minister Sato's office, and was led by Hiroshi Niino, one of Japan's foremost marine geologists and a participant in the earlier R/V Hunt cruise. In September of the same year, a report was released indicating that major' government funds had been allocated for further studies of the area and that the Japanese government "was convinced that well over 15 billion metric tons of quality oil were trapped under the Senkaku area.".

Such quantitative statements based on geophysical survey data only, should be regarded with caution. Only exploratory drilling efforts can yield the data on porosity, permeability and pressure of actual oil and gas traps. Qualitative statements, however, may prove helpful for the. evaluation of offshore potentials, especially by comparing the geophysical data with information of better known areas in the same region. In this respect the Chinese continental shelf appears to be highly promising:

Most important for the oil and gas potential in the region is the sediment fill beneath the continental shelf and the Yellow Sea. In these areas sediments were deposited rapidly because of the large area of China that is drained by the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers... The most favorable part of the region for oil and gas is the 200,OOO-sq km area mostly northeast of Taiwan. Sedimentary thicknesses exceed 2 km, and on Taiwan they reach 9 km, including 5 km of Neogene sediment.

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