China said Vietnam sent divers to disrupt its drilling operations as the two countries accused each other of escalating tensions in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
Vietnam continues to send ships to the region near an oil rig placed by China off Vietnam’s coast, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on its website yesterday. Chinese ships have now been rammed more than 1,400 times, it said.
Vietnam accused China of again threatening its vessels near the rig. A Chinese boat struck a Vietnamese fishery surveillance boat on June 7, online news website VnExpress reported, citing Vietnam’s fishery control department.
China’s state-owned companies have been directed to temporarily stop bidding for new contracts in Vietnam, the South China Morning Post reported, citing sources it did not identify.
China’s ability to pressure Vietnam economically underscores the vulnerability of the Southeast Asian country as it faces off against China over the resource-rich waters in dispute, said Alexander Vuving, a security analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. China’s $8.2-trillion economy is more than 50 times the size of Vietnam’s.
“The two sides are testing each other’s resolve to see who will blink first,” he said by phone. “China is in a position to show it has more resolve than Vietnam. This is part of China’s overall strategy of turning the South China Sea into a Chinese lake. Once China can control the South China Sea, it can dominate the maritime areas of the western Pacific.”
Under President Xi Jinping, China is flexing its economic and military muscle to assert its claims to waters that may be rich in mineral and energy deposits. China claims sovereignty over large parts of the South China Sea under its “nine dash-line” map, first published in 1947, which extends hundreds of miles south from China’s Hainan Island to equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo.
China faces increasing challenges in safeguarding its national maritime rights, the head of China’s State Oceanic Administration Liu Cigui wrote in an essay posted on the administration’s website yesterday. China needs to accelerate its path toward becoming a maritime power to protect its rights, he said.
Vietnam has sent a large number of vessels, some armed, to the oil-rig site to ram Chinese ships, the Chinese foreign ministry said in yesterday’s statement. Vietnam has rammed Chinese ships 1,416 times, sent “frogmen” to the area, and dropped obstacles such as fishing nets and floating objects in the water, it said.
“While illegally and forcefully disrupting the normal operation of the Chinese company on the sea, Vietnam also condoned anti-China demonstrations at home,” the ministry said.
China’s move to place the oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands in early May set off protests in Vietnam that left at least three Chinese nationals dead and prompted China to evacuate thousands of its citizens from the country.
Vietnam’s National Assembly on June 8 sent a letter to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organization of legislatures that supports the United Nations, to protest China’s placement of the rig, according to information posted to the website of the Vietnamese government.
Chinese ships have damaged 24 Vietnamese boats since vessels began challenging China’s installation of the rig, and 12 Vietnamese fisheries officers have been hurt, Vietnam officials said during a June 5 press conference in Hanoi. Vietnam also aired a video that officials said showed a Chinese vessel plowing into one of its fishing boats before it sank on May 26.
China’s military and economic might places Vietnam in a vulnerable position, Vuving said.
“There are a lot of people in Vietnam, particularly in the intelligentsia, who want to get free from the Chinese orbit,” he said. “At the same time, you have this reality that Vietnam is heavily dependent on China.”