Vietnam Says Chinese Boat Harassed Survey Ship; China Disputes

China's Defense Minister Liang Guanglie
Liang Guanglie, China's minister for national defense, speaks during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg

A Chinese vessel harassed a survey ship operated by Vietnam Oil & Gas Group in the South China Sea yesterday, Vietnam said, escalating tensions between the neighbors after a similar incident two weeks ago.

A Chinese fishing boat rammed the survey cables of the PetroVietnam ship yesterday morning in a “premeditated” incident, Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga told reporters. She said the ship was conducting a seismic survey in Block 136-03, an area more than 1,000 kilometers (622 miles) from China’s Hainan island.

“These acts are tailored in a very systematic way by the Chinese side with the aim to turn undisputed areas into disputed areas,” Nga said. Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. said in April it planned to conduct a “major seismic program” this year in the area where the incident occurred.

The confrontation took place four days after Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie sought to assure his country’s neighbors at a regional forum in Singapore that China poses no threat. Vietnam and the Philippines have proceeded with oil and gas exploration in disputed waters, rejecting China’s claims.

Hong Lei, China’s foreign ministry spokesman said that a confrontation had taken place, and that armed Vietnamese vessels had chased away Chinese fishermen, the official Xinhua News Agency reported today.

A Chinese fishing vessel got tangled with cables of the “illegally operating” oil-exploration vessel “in the turmoil” and was dragged for more than an hour before the fishermen cut themselves free, China’s official news service reported.

‘Indisputable Sovereignty’

China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly islands, which it calls the Nansha islands, and its fisherman have been visiting the Vanguard Bank, the site of the exploration, “from generation to generation,” Hong said, as cited by Xinhua. Hong called on Vietnam to “stop all action that violates Chinese sovereignty.”

Vietnam said Chinese vessels on May 26 cut cables of the Binh Minh 02, a PetroVietnam survey ship, and last week formally protested China’s threatening of Vietnamese fishermen near the disputed Spratly Islands. The moves sparked a demonstration of several hundred people in Hanoi on June 5 spurred by calls on Facebook and other social media.

The Chinese boat was equipped with “specialized cable-cutting devices” that got entangled with the survey ship, forcing other boats to come to its aid, Nga said yesterday at the regular press briefing. The Binh Minh 02 has been repaired and is operating with eight escort vessels to ensure “other vessels operating in the area will not collide” with the ship.

‘No Legal Grounds’

Vietnam Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh June 5 rejected China’s map of the South China Sea as a basis for joint development of oil and gas resources because it has “no legal grounds.” The Philippines said this week the Chinese-claimed Reed Bank Basin in the sea was off limits for joint exploration.

The Philippines will assert its “territorial rights” in the South China Sea “with firmness” and at “every appropriate opportunity” as a sovereign nation, President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement yesterday. It protested Chinese ships moving into waters near the islands it claims last month and chasing away a Forum Energy Plc survey vessel in March.

Talisman, Canada’s third-largest oil company by market value, will start exploratory drilling about 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) from Hainan, located off China’s southern coast, after a seismic program this year, according to a corporate presentation on its website last month.

The company, partnered with Hanoi-based PetroVietnam, has “legitimate licenses” and plans to push ahead “at a normal pace,” chief executive officer John Manzoni said in a May 4 interview.

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