Vietnam protests as Chinese ships again harass Vietnamese vessel

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Binh Minh 02, a seismic exploration ship owned by the state-owned Vietnam National Group of Oil and Gas, saw disturbed by Chinese ships over the past one and half years

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry summoned a Chinese embassy representative Monday to protest the latest incident at sea when a Vietnamese ship had its cables cut by Chinese fishing vessels, news webiste Petrotimes reported.

The ministry handed over a diplomatic note to the Chinese envoy about the incident that occurred on November 30.

International experts warn that such action by Chinese ships in Vietnamese waters for the second time in nearly two years shows China will be "unrelenting" in staking its territorial claims in the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea.

Speaking to Thanh Nien on the phone Monday after PetroVietnam's news website Petrotimes reported that the group's exploration vessel Binh Minh 02 was harassed -- the same ship that was targeted 18 months ago -- Carl Thayer, a maritime analyst at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, said the latest incident was a "highly provocative act."

It means that countries like Vietnam would find it "more difficult" to get foreign companies to work with them, if China "keeps this up," he said.

While it is unclear if the Chinese government is involved in the recent incidents, the new passports printed with the nine-dash line showing China's claims over 90 percent of the East Sea, and the harassment of Binh Minh 02 indicated that China "will be unrelenting in trying to stake out its claims," he said.

He noted that since a code of conduct aimed at easing tensions in the East Sea would be finalized between ASEAN and China in two years' time, China is stepping up provocation while it still can, and there is "no pressure on it to play the game diplomatically."

Kerry Brown, former head of the Asia Program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, said China's latest act signals it is "in no mood" to compromise on maritime border issues.

But it is not yet a "hard strategic move," but "largely a gesture," he said.

"This is a game China is playing to feel out the space it has around it and also assert some sort of strength to itself."

Pressure has to be put on China so it goes the "international legal route" and acts like "a major power," not plays "these old-style games" that undermine its moral standing and reveal its "insecurity" and "uncertainty."

Petrotimes quoted Pham Viet Dung, deputy chief of PetroVietnam's exploration and search department and chief of its East Sea Office, as saying that two Chinese fishing ships went past the stern of the Binh Minh 02 and severed its cables at around 4.05 a.m. on November 30 when it was about to start seismic exploration in Vinh Bac Bo (the Gulf on Tonkin).

It happened some 43 nautical miles southeast of Con Co Island off Vietnam's north-central province of Quang Tri, and 20 nautical miles on the Vietnamese side of the Vietnam-China median line in the Gulf of Tonkin, Dung said.

PetroVietnam ordered the broken cables quickly fixed and the Binh Minh 02 resumed "normal" work at around 2 p.m. the next day, he said. It has been carrying out seismic exploration of Vietnam's continental shelf since May.

According to Dung, many Chinese fishing ships had been operating there before the vessel arrived, and Vietnamese agencies had warned them to leave.

Recently many Chinese ships have illegally entered Vietnamese waters to fish, mainly in the area between Con Co Island and the south of Tri Ton Island in the Hoang Sa Archipelago, he said.

There have been days when there were more than 100 of them, and they "intentionally" keep entering Vietnamese waters despite orders to leave from Vietnamese authorities, he said.

"That Chinese fishing ships enter Vietnamese waters for fishing not only infringes on Vietnam's sovereignty, but also obstructs the normal activities of Vietnamese fishermen and affects PetroVietnam's activities at sea."

PetroVietnam has asked Chinese authorities to educate their citizens about respecting Vietnamese sovereignty, he said.


Chinese ships violate Vietnam's sovereignty, disrupt oil exploration work
Chinese ships cause disturbance in Vietnam's waters again

In May last year Binh Minh 02 had its cables severed by a Chinese marine surveillance vessel some 80 nautical miles off Nha Trang, and 370 nautical miles south of China's Hainan Island.

Two weeks later, the Viking II, a Norwegian ship contracted by a joint venture between PetroVietnam Technical Services Corporation and the French-owned CGG Veritas, was also harassed by Chinese ships when it was operating near the Dai Hung oil field 270 kilometers off the southern province of Vung Tau.

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