India and Việt Nam face off with China in disputed waters

Việt Nam's East SeaChina and two of its neighbours,Việt Nam and India, are locked in a new dispute over energy exploration in the Việt Nam’s East Sea, as China continues its aggressive attitude towards the contentious waterway.

Việt Nam accused a Chinese fishing boat of cutting a seismic cable attached to one of its vessels exploring for oil and gas near the Gulf of Tonkin – an act apparently designed to restrict Việt Nam’s pursuit of energy deposits.

In retaliation, Việt Nam said on Tuesday that it would launch new patrols to guard against increasing encroachment by Chinese fishing boats in the Việt Nam’s East Sea.

India, which operates several joint ventures with Việt Nam’s national energy company, Petro Việt Nam, said it would consider sending navy vessels to protect its interests in the sea.

The latest episode follows an announcement by Hainan province in southern China last week that Chinese vessels would board and search ships in contested areas of the sea, which includes vital shipping lanes through which more than a third of global trade moves.

The new tensions illustrate in stark terms the competition in the Việt Nam’s East Sea for what are believed to be sizeable deposits of oil and gas.

Earlier this year, China’s third-largest energy company, state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, launched new equipment that would allow China to drill in deep water for the first time.

The escalation in the Việt Nam’s East Sea comes less than a month after Xi Jinping took office as China’s leader.

Mr Xi appears to have taken a particular interest in the Việt Nam’s East Sea and the serious dispute between China and Japan over the islands known as Diaoyu in China and as Senkaku in Japan.

Whether any of China’s most recent actions in the Việt Nam’s East Sea were associated with Mr Xi was not clear.

But Mr Xi does lead a small group of policymakers clustered in the Maritime Rights Office, according to Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at PekingUniversity, and other Chinese experts.

A website run by Petro Việt Nam reported the company’s exploration vessel Bình Minh 02 had its seismic cable severed by a Chinese fishing vessel last Friday.

In May last year, the Vietnamese authorities said a similar cable of the Bình Minh 02 was cut by three Chinese surveillance ships, resulting in weeks of anti-China protests in Hà Nội.

In its decree on the new patrols, Vieệt Nam said civilian ships, supported by marine police and a border force, would be deployed starting next month to stop foreign vessels that violate fishing laws in waters claimed by Việt Nam.

India also reacted strongly.

The head of the Indian navy, Admiral D.K. Joshi, said India was prepared to send vessels to protect its interests in the sea.

”Now are we preparing for it?

Are we having exercises of that nature?

The short answer is ‘yes’,’

‘ Admiral Joshi said.

By JANE PERLEZ 

Source: The New Yourk Times, Associated Press

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