PRC menaces Vietnam with repeated maritime incursions

PRC menaces Vietnam with repeated maritime incursions

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has continued its bullying tactics in the South China Sea in recent months by repeatedly sending ships into waters off Vietnam’s coast.

Vietnam’s latest problems with the PRC began in July 2019, when the Haiyang Dizhi 8, a Chinese survey ship, began mapping a large section of seabed northeast of Vanguard Bank, which is in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The vessel was accompanied by ships from the PRC’s maritime militia and the China coast guard. Reuters has reported that China coast guard ships have also been harassing Vietnamese oil-drilling operations to the south.

The PRC has defied Vietnam’s EEZ before. In 2014, the Chinese government triggered the Haiyang Shiyou 981 standoff, also known as the 2014 China-Vietnam oil rig crisis. In that dispute, the PRC deployed an oil rig into the EEZ, with Vietnam moving to prevent the platform from establishing a fixed position. The standoff resulted in waves of anti-China protests in Vietnam, with calls for the country to reevaluate its diplomatic and security policies with the PRC. (Pictured: A China coast guard vessel, right, passes near the Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 in the South China Sea in June 2014.)

The latest dispute has the PRC trying to take control within its “nine-dash line,” the vague demarcation line it uses for its maritime claims in part of the South China Sea. The PRC is openly defying the legality of the continental shelf rights guaranteed to Vietnam by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The contested fields are all within the 90,650-square-kilometer Nam Con Son Basin. The basin is mostly within 200 nautical miles – about 370 kilometers – of Vietnam’s coastline, which is the international rule for determining exclusive economic zones. China is more than 966 kilometers away, leaving it no recognized status to lay claim to the disputed area.

Analyst Huong Le Thu says the PRC’s latest move represents a serious economic challenge and could ultimately force Vietnam into joint exploration ventures with China, even in waters previously recognized internationally as off-limits.

The United States officially condemned the PRC’s encroachments into Vietnam’s EEZ. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticized Chinese “coercion” in the dispute.

Vietnam is also a drilling partner with Rosneft, the leader of Russia’s oil industry and the world’s largest publicly traded petroleum company. Its primary shareholder is the Russian government. Currently, Russian companies are the only ones partnered with Vietnam to operate within the nine-dash line, and the PRC has a lot to lose if it goes too far in antagonizing Russia.

Foreign Policymagazine notes that China’s One Belt, One Road scheme “must carefully thread routes through what Russia considers to be its backyard.” China has already spent U.S. $7 billion in the Ukraine, which is in an undeclared war against Russian forces, and a project to link Kazakhstan with Belarus is already in the works.

“Keeping the peace between two powers requires substantial give and take and inevitable conflicts that must be addressed quietly as spheres of influence are established and reinforced,” Foreign Policyreported. “As a result, joint Russian-Vietnamese oil drilling off the southern Vietnamese coast is almost definitely on the negotiating table.”