Chinese survey ship inches closer to Vietnam coastline

Vessel's extended activities in disputed waters spark concern

In a photo from Aug 6, 2019, a Vietnamese policeman approaches anti-China protesters as they hold placards during a demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam. PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI • A Chinese survey vessel yesterday extended its activities to an area closer to Vietnam's coastline, ship tracking data showed, after the United States and Australia expressed concern about China's actions in the disputed waterways.

The Haiyang Dizhi 8 vessel first entered Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) early last month and began a weeks-long seismic survey in an active drilling block operated by Russia's state-owned Rosneft Oil, triggering a tense stand-off between military and coast guard vessels from Vietnam and China.

The Chinese vessel continued to survey Vietnam's EEZ yesterday under escort from at least four ships.

It was 102km south-east of Vietnam's Phu Quy island and 185km from the beaches of the southern city of Phan Thiet, according to data from Marine Traffic, a website that tracks vessel movements.

The Chinese vessel group was followed by at least two Vietnamese naval vessels, according to the data.

Vietnam's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

A country's EEZ typically extends up to 200 nautical miles from its coastline, according to an international UN treaty.

That country has sovereign rights to exploit any natural resources within that area, according to the agreement.

Vietnam and China have for years been embroiled in a dispute over the potentially energy-rich stretch of waters and a busy shipping lane in the South China Sea.

China's unilaterally declared "nine-dash line" marks a vast, U-shape expanse of the South China Sea that it claims, including large swathes of Vietnam's continental shelf where it has awarded oil concessions.

Last Friday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison expressed their concern about China's activities in the South China Sea, known in Vietnam as the East Sea.

Earlier in the week, the United States said it was deeply concerned about China's interference in oil and gas activities in waters claimed by Vietnam, and that the deployment of the vessels was "an escalation by Beijing in its efforts to intimidate other claimants out of developing resources in the South China Sea".

For Vietnam - a country that produced 22 million to 33 million tonnes of oil from its offshore blocks each year, and has as much as 4.4 billion tonnes in crude oil and gas reserves there - armed Chinese ships within its maritime border could have a devastating impact on an industry that made up 20 per cent of Vietnam's gross domestic product from 1986 to 2009.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, in response to the US statement, said Washington was "sowing division and had ulterior motives".

"The aim is to bring chaos to the situation in the South China Sea and damage regional peace and stability. China is resolutely opposed to this," Mr Geng told a daily news briefing last Friday.

China defended its move, saying Vietnam should not have carried out its decision in May to unilaterally begin exploitation work in a "Chinese jurisdiction".

"This is the cause of the current situation," Mr Geng said last Friday.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 25, 2019, with the headline Chinese survey ship inches closer to Vietnam coastline. Subscribe