First Japan, Then India, Now Vietnam; China Unfriending Everyone
Yesterday we noted that India was preparing to send its Navy into the South China Sea - defending its mineral rights from China's increasingly vociferous presence. The Philippines also expressed concern. Today, it's Vietnam's turn as Reuters reports the nation is condemning China's "serious violation of sovereignty" as Chinese boats sabotaged Vietnamese State oil and gas company - PetroVietnam's operations (by severing a seismic cable). The actions stem from China's 'belief' that two Vietnamese-owned archipelagos (Spratly and Paracel Islands) are theirs. While China (who oppose unilateral oil and gas development in disputed waters) argued somewhat comically that "Chinese fishing boats were operating normally," the Vietnamese saw it as "blatant violation of Vietnamese waters," and are deploying marine police and a border force to stop foreign vessels. As one analyst noted, "It's going to lead to friction."
Vietnam condemned on Tuesday China's claims to disputed South China Sea islands as a serious violation of its sovereignty after saying it was setting up patrols to protect its fisheries and accusing Chinese boats of sabotage.
Claims by an increasingly powerful China over most of the South China Sea have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the mineral-rich waters.
Vietnam's condemnation came a day after its state oil and gas company, Petrovietnam, accused Chinese boats of sabotaging an exploration operation by cutting a seismic cable being towed behind a Vietnamese boat.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the cable cutting as well as some recent Chinese provincial regulations that identified the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands as Chinese, and a map that did the same thing.
"The actions of the Chinese side have seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty over the two archipelagos," the spokesman, Luong Thanh Nghi, said in a statement.
Earlier, Vietnam said civilian-led patrols, backed by marine police and a border force, would be deployed from January 25 to stop foreign vessels violating fishing laws in Vietnam's waters.
A decree on the Vietnamese patrols was signed on November 29, the day Chinese media announced new rules authorizing police in the southern Chinese province of Hainan to board and seize foreign ships in the South China Sea.
"It's going to lead to friction," Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia security expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said of China's new rules that take effect from January 1 on boarding ships which "illegally enter" waters it claims.
"If it begins to assert these rights and isn't challenged, over time it becomes customary, it becomes practice."
On Monday, Petrovietnam said the seismic vessel had been operating outside the Gulf of Tonkin when the cable was severed on Friday. It had earlier been surveying the Nam Con Son basin further south - an area where Indian state-run explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has a stake in a Vietnamese gas field.
"The blatant violation of Vietnamese waters by Chinese fishing vessels not only violates the sovereignty ... of Vietnam but also interferes in the normal operations of Vietnamese fishermen and affects the maritime activities of Petrovietnam," Dung was quoted as saying.
"Chinese fishing boats were operating in normal fishing activities," Hong said.
"China opposes unilateral oil and gas development in disputed waters of the South China Sea. We hope that concerned countries respect China's position and rights, and respect efforts made through bilateral talks to resolve disputes."
Singapore, home to the world's second-busiest container port, joined the Philippines on Monday in expressing concern at the prospect of Chinese police boarding ships. The Philippines on Saturday condemned the Chinese plan as illegal.
Estimates for proven and undiscovered oil reserves in the South China Sea range as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a 2008 report. That would surpass the proven oil reserves of every country except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.
On Monday, China's National Energy Administration said China aims to produce 15 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from the South China Sea by 2015.
It said the sea would "form the main part" of China's offshore gas exploration plans.