New allies Vietnam and Australia yesterday expressed concern about China’s activities in the South China Sea, where Vietnamese and Chinese vessels are locked in a tense standoff in Vietnamese-controlled waters.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc discussed the rising tensions with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the first visit by an Australian leader to Hanoi since the nations formalized their “strategic partnership” earlier this year.
“We are deeply concerned about the recent complicated developments in the East Sea and agree to cooperate in maintaining peace, stability, security, safety, and freedom of navigation and overflight,” Phuc said alongside Morrison at a joint news conference, using the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea.
The comments were Phuc’s first on the standoff.
A Chinese vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 8, yesterday continued to survey Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under escort from at least seven Chinese vessels, according to data from Marine Traffic, a Web site that tracks vessel movements.
At least two Vietnamese navy ships, including the Russian-built Quang Trung frigate, have been closely shadowing the Chinese vessels, the data showed.
The US on Thursday 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.”
Morrison said that the principles of international law should be upheld.
“Principles like freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, to ensure nations can pursue the development opportunities which exist within their EEZ and sea boundaries, and can go about that business in a way which is uninhibited,” said Morrison, who on Thursday began a three-day visit to Hanoi.
In May, two Australian warships docked at Vietnam’s strategic naval base at Cam Ranh Bay as the two navies stepped up cooperation.
Morrison was in Hanoi on the first official visit by an Australian prime minister since the two nations in March last year upgraded their relationship to a “strategic partnership.”
Bilateral trade rose 19.4 percent last year to US$7.72 billion, Vietnamese customs data showed.
Australia is the largest foreign coal supplier to Vietnam, which is increasingly reliant on the fossil fuel for power generation to meet its fast-growing economy.
Coal shipments from Australia to Vietnam more than tripled from January to last month from the period from a year earlier to 8.51 million tonnes, customs data showed.
“Australia and Vietnam are friends and, today, to use Australian parlance, we’ve gone from friends to mates,” Morrison said.
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