Tensions went up a notch in a maritime border dispute between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea on Friday, with Hanoi announcing it would carry out live-fire naval drills near disputed island chains.
Vietnam, which has accused China of escalating tensions in the region during two maritime confrontations in recent weeks, warned vessels to stay out of the sea exercise area off its central Quam Nang province on Monday.
China had reacted angrily after Vietnam said a Chinese fishing boat rammed cables from an oil exploration vessel inside its exclusive economic zone on Thursday. Chinese fishing boats were also chased away by armed Vietnamese ships, Beijing said.
Chinese analysts said the long-running sovereignty dispute near the Spratly [in Chinese, Nansha] Islands looks set to get worse.
“Even though both sides [in this dispute] subscribe to international maritime law, they have different interpretations,” said Wu Fan, editor of the U.S.-based magazine China Affairs.
“They are both using the interpretation which is in their interest to use, and ignoring the interpretation which isn’t.”
He said Beijing had started to comb through records dating from pre-1911 Imperial China to find historical backing for its sovereignty claims over the Spratlys, which are thought to be rich in oil and natural resources.
“So the situation between the two sides is becoming more and more [polarized], and more and more serious,” Wu said.
He said China’s military had designated the South China Sea as one of its core interests last year, and that Beijing is apparently continuing to treat it as such.
Seton Hall University professor Yang Liyu said it would be hard now for either side to back down.
“This is like putting out a fire with gasoline,” Yang said.
“This is very likely to get bigger until it affects stability throughout the South China Sea region,” he added. “The disputes and clashes are likely to get more and more serious.”
“Vietnam isn’t going to back down, and China isn’t going to back down. Especially not on the island chains.”
“No country wants to relinquish sovereignty,” he added.
China on Thursday accused Vietnam of “gravely violating” its sovereignty, saying Vietnam’s actions had endangered Chinese sailors’ lives, and warned it to stop “all invasive activities.”
The Philippines—which has called on China and Vietnam to stop adding to tensions—and Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have rival claims in the area.
Last weekend, hundreds of people in Vietnam protested in front of Chinese diplomatic missions in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City, singing patriotic songs and carried banners supporting Vietnam’s claim to the Spratlys and Paracel [In Chinese, Changsha] island chains.
The protests were announced by netizens using social media, including Facebook, text messaging, blogs, and chat forums.
A few days later, more than 200 Vietnamese websites were attacked and some defaced with Chinese flags, according to a state-run Vietnamese Internet security firm.
Among the websites targeted since the beginning of June were the official sites of the ministries of agriculture and foreign affairs. The hackers left some writings in Chinese and Chinese national flags, the Bach Khoa Internetwork Security Center said.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-based petition-hosting website Change.org said more than 100,000 people in 115 countries had joined an online campaign to rename the South China Sea to the Southeast Asia Sea.
“The sea is not restricted to a specific country,” the petition states. “The countries of Southeast Asia encompass almost the entire South China Sea with a total coastline measuring approximately 130,000 kilometers (81,250 miles) long; whereas Southern China’s coastline measures about 2,800 kilometers (1,750 miles) in length.”
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.