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China and Vietnam trade barbs in maritime dispute

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-06-10

China and Vietnam traded accusations late Thursday after a Vietnamese exploration vessel clashed with a Chinese fishing boat in a segment of the South China Sea both sides claim as their own.

REUTERS - China accused Vietnam of “gravely violating” its sovereignty and endangering Chinese sailors in the South China Sea in an escalating row over territorial claims in the resource-rich region.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued the condemnation of Vietnam late on Thursday after Hanoi accused China of harassing a ship doing seismic surveys in the South China Sea, contested by several nations.
China has quarreled with both Vietnam and the Philippines in recent weeks over festering maritime disputes and, though a military clash seems unlikely, the tensions could trouble regional diplomacy and possibly draw in the United States, which took up the South China Sea dispute last year.
Those tensions have been magnified by region-wide nervousness about China’s naval modernisation.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said his country was the victim in the latest encounter in which a Chinese fishing boat became entangled with cables from the Vietnamese ship and was dragged along for over an hour.
“The Vietnamese ship put the lives and safety of the Chinese fishermen in serious danger,” Hong said in a statement on the ministry website.
He accused Vietnam of violating China’s claim on the Spratly archipelago and nearby seas, which Vietnam also deems its own.  China calls the islands the Nansha group.
“It must be pointed out that by conducting unlawful oil and gas surveys in seas around the Wan’an Bank of the Spratly archipelago and by driving out a Chinese fishing vessel, Vietnam has gravely violated China’s sovereignty and maritime rights,” said Hong.
“China demands that Vietnam cease all violations,” he said, adding that Vietnam should “not take actions that would complicate and expand the dispute”.
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territory in the South China Sea, parts of which could hold deposits of oil and gas .
China’s claim is by far the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea’s 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
Beijing said on Thursday that it would hold naval drills in late June in the western Pacific Ocean, and the Chinese navy has done little to disguise plans to launch its first aircraft carrier, the first step towards building an operating carrier group.
Beijing sees both national interests and pride at stake in the sea disputes. A Chinese military officer said in a commentary on Friday that China had every right to match its growing power and interests with a “blue water” navy.
“Putting it plainly, some people want to contain China’s rise and are trying to turn the Chinese dragon into the Chinese bug,” Major General Luo Yuan, who often publishes rousing comments on China’s military plans, wrote in the Global Times.
Rival claims, rival accounts
The United States, the dominant military power in the Pacific, became embroiled in the sea tensions with China last year after the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed Washington’s support for a collective regional solution to the mosaic of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Beijing favours dealing with each dispute separately with the other countries making territorial claims, and is wary of Washington becoming involved in the issue.
On Thursday, Vietnam said China had harassed its survey ship in the second such incident in two weeks, and it gave a very different account of the latest incident.
A Chinese fishing boat used a “cable cutting device” which became trapped in underwater cables used by a ship hired by Vietnam, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said. The ship was operating over Vietnam’s continental shelf and within its exclusive economic zone off the southern coast, it said.
Two Chinese ships then came to help the Chinese fishing vessel, she said, calling the incident part of a campaign of systematic and intentional violations by China. 
Vietnam lodged a complaint with China in late May when a Chinese patrol vessel slashed the cables of a Vietnamese ship conducting a seismic survey off its south-central coast.
China and the Philippines have also been exchanging accusations over rival claims over different parts of the Spratly islands.
Manila has accused China of intrusions into its territory, citing six instances, including one in March when two Chinese patrol boats tried to ram a survey ship.  


Date created : 2011-06-10