Chinese ships intrude into Vietnam’s maritime boundary near Russian-run gas fields, ignore demand to leave
A day after Vietnam ordered the ships to leave, a Chinese research ship and five escorting vessels remained in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on Friday near gas reserves in the South China Sea run by Russian companies.
According to Ray Powell, director of Stanford University’s Project Myoushu in the South China Sea, the Chinese ship Xiang Yang Hong 10 started operating in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on May 7. This is the largest incursion since 2019.
He said China’s conduct and Vietnam’s reaction were a “worrying escalation”.
The majority of the South China Sea’s energy-rich waters are claimed by China, including those that fall within Vietnam’s EEZ.
The 2019 standoff lasted for more than three months and primarily focused on a block that was then managed by Rosneft, the Russian government-owned oil company (ROSN.MM). Less than two years later, Rosneft sold its South China Sea holdings to Zarubezhneft, a state-owned company in Russia that manages several of the gas resources at the centre of the present controversy.
According to vessel-tracking information provided to Reuters by the South China Sea Chronicle Initiative (SCSCI), an independent non-profit, the Chinese research ship has been travelling primarily across gas block 04-03 since May 7, at times flanked by a dozen other vessels. This block is operated by Vietsovpetr, a joint venture between Zarubezhneft and PetroVietnam.
Additionally, Vietgazprom, a joint venture between the massive Russian company Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and PetroVietnam, is frequently crossing blocks 132 and 131 that Vietnam has granted licence to. Chinese bidders are vying for the rights to those two blocks.
Requests for feedback from the three businesses and the Russian embassy in Hanoi were not immediately fulfilled.
In response to a question regarding the standoff, Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, stated that China held sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and the waters surrounding them as well as jurisdiction over the pertinent waters.
“Relevant ships of China carry out normal activities under China’s jurisdiction. It is legitimate and lawful, and there is no issue of entering other countries’ exclusive economic zones,” she told a regular press conference.
Mao said China had maintained communications with relevant parties on the issue and would like to work with them to “jointly safeguard the peace and stability of the South China Sea”, adding that China would “definitely protect (its) lawful rights and interests”.
They were in block 129, which is also run by Vietgazprom, on Thursday when Vietnam made a rare public statement asking the ships leave, according to Powell. The declaration came after Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president and the vice chairman of that country’s security council, paid a visit to Hanoi on Monday.
Powell said that on Friday, two Vietnamese fisheries ships were 200–300 metres away from the Chinese ships, shadowing them. Powell also noted that the Chinese ships had moved to a block near the Russian companies’ vessels.
Ships are permitted to pass across other nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in accordance with international law, but Vietnam and other nations with claims in the South China Sea, such as the Philippines and Malaysia, have long seen China’s operations as hostile.
(With agency inputs)
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