Tensions Flare in the South China Sea

As CDT reported earlier tensions between China and Vietnam are escalating over the South China Sea. Anti-China protesters marched through the streets of Hanoi against China’s claim to sovereignty. From the Voice of America:

Policemen outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi braced for the first anti-China protest in nearly a year. Just a few streets away, a large crowd was gathering, carrying banners and waving flags.
Le Hien Duc, 83, who was at the protest says about 500 people gathered to attend the protest. Some had travelled long distances to be there. Duc says she took part because she wanted to show solidarity with her country against aggressive tactics by China.
Videos of hundreds of protesters in Ho Chi Minh City shouting and holding posters with words like, “China, the World Hates Pirates, go home,” were also posted online.

Many protesters wanted to show support for a law passed last week by Vietnam’s National Assembly. The Law on the Sea states Vietnam's sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, an area believed to be rich in minerals and gas, which is also claimed by China and other countries in the region.

 

The Washington Post reports that the protest was due to China’s announcement that it will open oil and gas lots in the disputed region:

 

The protest follows China’s recent announcement that it will open nine oil and gas lots for development to international bidders, even though the area overlaps with Vietnam’s current exploration contracts.

“We are very angry with China’s recent offer to look for oil inside Vietnam’s territory,” said Phuong Bich, 53, who was arrested three times last year during similar demonstrations that were broken up. “We urge the government to take action.”

Hanoi says the area where the China National Offshore Oil Corp., or CNOOC, has identified lies within Vietnam’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. State-owned PetroVietnam has encouraged foreign companies to ignore China’s offer and says it will continue working on contracts signed with ExxonMobil, Russia’s Gazprom, India’s ONGC and PetroVietnam affiliate PVEP.

Rhetoric between the two communist neighbors has become increasingly hostile in recent weeks. Beijing’s Defense Ministry said it has “battle-ready” patrols protecting its interests in the South China Sea and warned Vietnam to back off its reported aerial patrols of the disputed Spratly Islands.

In response to the recent tensions in the region, China has vowed to oppose military provocation. AFP adds:

China's military has established routine naval patrols in the South China Sea, “indisputable territory” of the nation and a matter of “national sovereignty,” defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said.

“We will resolutely oppose any military provocations,” Geng said in statements posted on his ministry's website.

Geng's remarks came as the United States launched the largest-ever “Rim of the Pacific” naval exercises in Hawaii, involving 22 nations, including the US, India, Russia, Australia and the Philippines.

China was not invited to participate or observe the exercises.

According to Xinhua, China has sent out patrol ships to the South China Sea:

A patrol team consisting of four China Marine Surveillance (CMS) ships on Sunday reached Huayang Reef in the South China Sea.

The CMS patrol team sailed from south China's coastal city of Sanya on June 26 to the South China Sea to conduct regular patrols. The team is expected to travel more than 2,400 nautical miles (4,500 km) during the patrols.

Read previous coverage on the South China Sea dispute, via CDT.