A Chinese survey vessel yesterday extended its activities to an area closer to Vietnam’s coastline, ship tracking data showed, after the US 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 where it began a weeks-long seismic survey, triggering a tense standoff between military and coast guard vessels from Vietnam and China.
Yesterday, the Chinese vessel continued to survey Vietnam’s EEZ under escort from at least four ships and was about 102km southeast 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 Web site that tracks vessel movements.
The group of Chinese vessels was followed by at least two Vietnamese naval vessels, the data showed.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A country’s EEZ typically extends up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from its coastline, an international UN treaty says, adding that the country has sovereign rights to exploit any natural resources within that area.
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, known in Vietnam as the East Sea.
China’s unilaterally declared nine-dash line marks a vast, U-shaped expanse of the South China Sea, including large swathes of Vietnam’s continental shelf, where it has awarded oil concessions.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday expressed their concern about China’s activities.
Earlier in the week, the US 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”
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽), in response to the US statement, said that 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,” Geng told a daily news briefing on Friday.
Meanwhile, the US and 10 Southeast Asian nations are to hold their first-ever joint maritime exercises next month, aimed at preventing “wrongdoing” as Washington and Beijing jostle for influence in the region.
Washington has been the dominant naval power in Southeast Asia and its re-engagement with the area comes as a trade dispute with China threatens to engulf the global economy.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month attended a regional summit with ASEAN in a bid to promote the US administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
China last year held a joint maritime drill with the regional bloc.
The navies of the US and ASEAN are to do the same on Sept. 2, the US embassy in Bangkok announced on Friday, with the exercises to launch from a Thai naval base in Chonburi Province.
The purpose of the five-day drill is to “maintain maritime security, focus on prevention and preempt wrongdoing in the sea,” a US embassy statement said.
The drills are to primarily take place off the coast of Vietnam’s southernmost Ca Mau Province, where the US Navy is to dispatch “suspicious boats” in a mock exercise to help ASEAN’s navies to “search, verify and legally prosecute” the boats.
A Thai Ministry of Defense spokesman yesterday tried to play down the timing of the US-ASEAN drills.
“We held exercises with China, now we are having exercises with the US,” Thai Lieutenant General Kongcheep Tantravanich said.
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