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Taiwan undersea oil plans raise neighbors' eyebrows

The island's exploration efforts in the South China Sea could fuel tensions with China and other nations with territorial claims there. Heated rhetoric last year prompted the US to intervene.

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Taiwan, a normally quiet claimant to portions of the disputed South China Sea, plans to explore for undersea oil there, a move likely to test fragile relations with China and upset major Southeast Asian nations.

Ringed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and others, the waters are believed to hold as many as 213 billion barrels of oil but competing claims from the six bordering nations have fueled tensions, prompting US officials to step in last year to urge calm.

Taiwan’s Bureau of Mines and its top energy company plan to explore this year for some of that oil near an islet that the government holds in the Spratly archipelago, a spokesman for the company said.

Taiwan’s search for oil would remind five competing nations that it still has clout, despite old foe China. The more powerful Beijing forbids its allies around Asia from talking to Taipei and has its own ambitions in the disputed 3.5 million-square-kilometer (1.4 million-square-mile) sea.

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