Vietnam said China again shifted an oil rig it has placed in waters just 150 miles off the Vietnamese coast, with six warships guarding the structure.
The rig was moved for a third time and remains off Vietnam’s coast in an area well within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the official Vietnam News reported, citing information from the Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance Department.
There are now six Chinese warships, 38 coast guard vessels, 13 cargo ships and 19 tugboats protecting it, the paper said.
At a briefing later in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying claimed that China hasn’t sent military ships to the area.
The state-owned Vietnam Television last week released video clips showing Chinese warships guarding the oil rig and obstructing operation of Vietnam's sea law enforcement forces.
By placing its oil rig off Vietnam's coast last month, and in constructing artificial islands near the Spratlys, over which Vietnam and several other countries also claim sovereignty, China is mapping out an aggressive strategy, Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, said in a phone interview.
“It’s an escalation,” he said. “We are really reaching a regional crisis stage. It seems that China has reached a decision to go for broke.”
Chinese ships are moving in reverse into the path of Vietnamese vessels in an attempt to make it appear as though the Chinese boats are being rammed, Vietnam News said. A Chinese boat struck a Vietnamese fishery surveillance boat on June 7, according to Vietnam’s fishery control department.
China on June 9 accused Vietnamese boats of ramming Chinese ships more than 1,400 times. It claimed Vietnam has also sent “frogmen” to the site and dropped obstacles such as fishing nets and floating objects in the water.
Vietnam last week released a video showing a Chinese vessel chasing and hitting a much smaller Vietnamese fishing boat, causing it to capsize and sink near the site of the oil rig.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told an Asian security forum in late May that China has "undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea" in recent months.
“Both Vietnam and China should remove all of their ships and China should remove the oil rig,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel told reporters yesterday on a teleconference. He urged both countries to exercise restraint and de-escalate tensions.
Vietnam’s Transport Minister Dinh La Thang said he has not seen any indication that Chinese companies are pulling back on investment in the Southeast Asian country. China’s state-owned companies have been told to temporarily halt bidding for Vietnam contracts, the South China Morning Post reported June 9.
“I haven’t heard any Chinese companies say their government has told them not to bid on new projects in Vietnam,” Thang said in an interview in Hanoi. “If that’s true, it will be their loss because it means they are giving away good business opportunities to other investors. If China tells its companies to withdraw from existing projects in Vietnam, I’m sure there are many other companies out there that will want to take over.”
China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade rising 22 percent to $50.2 billion last year from 2012, according to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office. Vietnam and China aim to boost two-way trade to $60 billion in 2015, according to an April 14 statement from Vietnam’s government. Vietnam bought $37 billion of goods from China last year, according to the statistics office.