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Vietnam Adds Sea Patrols Amid Tensions With China

  • VOA News

Vietnam is adding new patrols to protect its fishing grounds in the South China Sea after the country's state-run energy giant accused Chinese vessels of sabotaging one of its boats in the disputed waters.

State media said Tuesday the "maritime surveillance force" will have the authority to arrest crews and impose fines on foreign vessels within Vietnam's declared exclusive 370-kilometer economic zone. It will be deployed on January 25.

It comes a day after PetroVietnam said several Chinese fishing vessels cut the cables of one of its exploration vessels in the South China Sea last week. The state-run company said it later repaired the cable, but called the act a "blatant violation of Vietnamese waters."

China and Vietnam are in a long-running dispute over their competing claims in the South China Sea, and small-scale clashes occasionally break out between patrol boats or fishing vessels.

Vietnam, the Philippines and other East Asian nations accuse China of increasing aggressiveness in defending its claims in the South China Sea. China claims nearly all of the 3.5 million square-kilometer area, an important shipping route that also contains potential energy deposits.

Last week, regional tensions were raised after China announced new rules authorizing police in southern Hainan province to board and seize foreign ships it says are illegally entering its territory.

Regional power India also says it is ready to deploy naval vessels to protect its oil-exploration interests the South China Sea. Indian Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi said Monday that his ships have the mandate to defend his country's interests in the area when necessary.

India does not have competing claims with China to the area, but its state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has a stake in a gas field off the coast of Vietnam.

Rory Medcalf of the Lowy Institute for International Policy says Admiral Joshi's remarks should not be seen as an overt challenge to Beijing.

"I think his remarks are primarily aimed at a domestic Indian audience, to assure them of India's naval capability and its willingness to protect its interests," he said. "I don't think, however, that India is picking a fight over this."

Medcalf says he doubts whether India would act unilaterally in the South China Sea, saying it would have difficulty in sustaining any military deployments there.

But Australian National University defense analyst John Blaxland predicts that regional tensions will continue to rise in the South China Sea, and Beijing is not likely to back down.

"The oil and gas resources that are understood to be underneath the South China Sea are potentially massive. And for a resource-starved country like China, they are too important for these little countries in Southeast Asia take from them," said Blaxland.

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