Vietnam protests over Chinese military drill in South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 12:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 September, 2017, 9:19pm

Vietnam has opposed what it called a Chinese announcement of military exercises in a disputed area of the South China Sea.

Disagreements over the two nations’ rival claims to the waters have pushed tensions between the neighbours to the highest level in three years.

China has appeared uneasy at Vietnam’s efforts to rally Southeast Asian countries over the busy waterway as well as at its neighbour’s growing defence ties with the United States, Japan and India.

Under pressure from Beijing, Vietnam suspended oil drilling in offshore waters in July that are also claimed by China.

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Vietnam was deeply concerned about drills in the region of the Gulf of Tonkin, at the north end of the South China Sea, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement on Thursday, but did not make clear what drills were referred to.

“Vietnam proposes China to cease and refrain from repeating acts that complicate the situation in the East Sea,” Hang said, employing Vietnam’s name for the South China Sea.

All foreign activities in Vietnamese waters must comply with Vietnamese and international laws, she added.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry conveyed its position to a Chinese embassy representative on Thursday, the statement said, without saying when China’s announcement was made or when any drill might take place.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Maritime Safety Administration of China’s southern province of Hainan, which oversees the South China Sea, said last month military drills would take place south of the province and east of Vietnam from August 29 until September 4.

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There would be live fire drills around the Paracel Islands, which Vietnam claims, until Sunday, it added.

China claims nearly all the South China Sea, through which an estimated US$3 trillion in international trade passes each year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan also have claims.

Dai Fan, a Southeast Asian affairs expert from Jinan University in Guangzhou, said there was a “huge gap” to be bridged by China and Vietnam over their maritime disputes.

“Now is a critical time for Vietnam, since Japan and the US are both trying to build their relationships with Vietnam. Japan has increased investments in the country, and the US has long been seeking deeper military ties with Vietnam,” he said.

US President Donald Trump is expected to visit Vietnam in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

“The US and Vietnam might hold joint drills in the future, which would certainly get the attention of China,” Dai said. “Actually, Vietnam’s stance on the maritime dispute hasn’t changed – it’s just the way the government has shown its dissatisfaction that has varied from time to time. In essence, it won’t soften its stance against China.”

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang