HANOI — Border demarcation contention continues to plague the South China Sea. China's claim for the entire sea is denied by its regional neighbors. This week, Vietnam released a media statement listing recent concerns about territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Among the so-called “sovereignty violations” was a map of China’s Sansha City, published last week, which includes the Paracel and Spratly islands, two areas also claimed by Vietnam.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi says Vietnam asked China to respect the country’s sovereignty, terminate the “wrongful acts” and not allow similar acts to be repeated.
The statement included an accusation that, on November 30, Chinese ships cut the cables of Vietnam’s Binh Minh 2, a seismic survey vessel. The ship belongs to state-owned oil and gas giant, PetroVietnam. The company accused China of cutting the survey cables at least twice last year, triggering weeks of anti-China protests in Vietnam’s major cities.
Deputy head of exploration, Pham Viet Dunung says the ship was operating within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.
He says many Chinese fishing boats were causing problems for the company’s activities.
In response to the allegations, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says the government is investigating the allegation and that the fishermen were engaging in normal fishing activities in that part of the sea.
Topping Vietnam’s list of so-called territorial violations are revised border security regulations released by China’s Hainan province last week, which will affect the country’s coastal regions, including the contested archipelagos, from January First.
The plan says Chinese police may stop and search foreign ships which enter waters claimed by China in the South China Sea. Monday, the Philippines called it a “gross violation” of international law, because China claims almost all the sea.
Analysts say the regulations could have serious consequences for the critical international shipping route, but that it depends how they are put into action. Every country has the right to stop illegal activities within its territorial waters, says defense analyst Carl Thayer.
"So on the face of it, so what, it’s like blustering. But then if you transpose that in the attempt to take action in waters not around Hainan and even the Paracels, then they are really escalating the situation," he said.
Analysts say if the regulations are executed in disputed areas which are occupied by other countries, like Vietnam or the Philippines, then China could be accused of piracy or even an act of war.
Despite the the possible serious international implications, Thayer says Hainan authorities are responsible for the new regulations, not Beijing.
"I don’t think the central government in China ordered these or orchestrated them but it’s clear there has been a neglect by the central government and local authorities act as cowboys at sea," he said.
In the statement released Tuesday, Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesman Nghi says the ministry has met with representatives from the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, to give them a note protesting the recent incidents.
The same day, state media reported Vietnam had set up a "maritime surveillance force" which will have the authority to arrest crews and impose fines on foreign vessels within Vietnam's declared exclusive 370-kilometer economic zone. Analysts say the move is well-timed, rather than being a deliberate response.