Vietnam, China embroiled in South China Sea standoff

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, second left, front, and Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh, second right, front, speak with deployed Coast Guard Force sailors via video call on July 11, 2019. (VNA via Reuters)
Updated 17 July 2019

Vietnam, China embroiled in South China Sea standoff

  • China’s U-shaped ‘nine-dash line’ marks a vast expanse of the South China Sea that it claims
  • It includes large swathes of Vietnam’s continental shelf where it has awarded oil concessions

HANOI: Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been embroiled in a weeks-long standoff near an offshore oil block in disputed waters of the South China Sea, which fall within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, two Washington-based think-tanks said on Wednesday.
China’s U-shaped “nine-dash line” marks a vast expanse of the South China Sea that it claims, including large swathes of Vietnam’s continental shelf where it has awarded oil concessions.
The Haiyang Dizhi 8, a ship operated by the China Geological Survey, on Monday completed a 12-day survey of waters near the disputed Spratly Islands, according to separate reports by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS)
One of the oil blocks it surveyed is licensed by Vietnam to Spanish energy firm Repsol, which was forced last year and in 2017 to cease operations in Vietnamese waters because of pressure from China.
As the Haiyang Dizhi 8 conducted its survey, nine Vietnamese vessels closely followed it. The Chinese ship was escorted by three China Coast Guard vessels, according to data from Winward Maritime, compiled by C4ADS.
In a separate incident days earlier, the China Coast Guard ship Haijing 35111 maneuvered in what CSIS described as a “threatening manner” toward Vietnamese vessels servicing a Japanese-owned oil rig, the Hakuryu-5, leased by Russian state oil firm Rosneft in Vietnam’s Block 06.1, 370 km (230 miles) southeast of Vietnam.
That block is within the area outlined by China’s “nine-dash line.” A series of dashes on Chinese maps, the line is not continuous, making China’s claims often ambiguous.
Last year, Reuters exclusively reported that Rosneft Vietnam BV, a unit of Rosneft, was concerned that its drilling in Block 06.1 would upset China.
“On July 2 the vessels were leaving the Hakuryu-5 when the 35111 maneuvered between them at high speed, passing within 100 meters of each ship and less than half a nautical mile from the rig,” CSIS said in its report.
It was not clear on Wednesday if any Chinese ships were still challenging the Rosneft rig.
In 2014, tension between Vietnam and China rose to its highest levels in decades when a Chinese oil rig started drilling in Vietnamese waters. The incident triggered boat rammings by both sides and anti-China riots in Vietnam.
In response to reports of this month’s standoff, which first emerged on social media, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on July 12 that China’s position on the South China Sea was “clear and consistent.”
“China resolutely safeguards its sovereignty in the South China Sea and maritime rights, and at the same time upholds controlling disputes with relevant countries via negotiations and consultations,” Geng said, without elaborating.
On Tuesday, Vietnam’s foreign ministry released a statement in response to unspecified “recent developments” in the South China Sea.
“Without Vietnam’s permission, all actions undertaken by foreign parties in Vietnamese waters have no legal effect, and constitute encroachments in Vietnamese waters, and violations of international law,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said.
Neither statements confirmed or elaborated on the standoff.
Neither Rosneft nor Repsol immediately responded to an emailed request from Reuters for comment.
In a new statement on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng acknowledged that there had been an incident with Vietnam.
“We hope the Vietnam side can earnestly respect China’s sovereignty, rights, and jurisdiction over the relevant waters, and not take any actions that could complicate the situation,” Geng told a regular news conference.
On July 11, as China was conducting its survey of the blocks, Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, visited the headquarters of the Vietnam Coast Guard in Hanoi.
State media did not mention the incident, but showed Phuc speaking to sailors on board vessels via a video link.
Phuc told the sailors to “stay vigilant and ready to fight” and to be aware of “unpredictable developments,” the Vietnam Coast Guard said in a statement on its website.
On the same day, Vietnam’s national assembly chairwoman, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, met her Chinese counterpart, Li Zhanshu, in Beijing, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
The two officials agreed to “jointly safeguard peace and stability at sea,” Xinhua said.


Post-Brexit talks gear up for fish fight between EU, UK

Updated 29 January 2020

Post-Brexit talks gear up for fish fight between EU, UK

  • Industry and financial services are much more important in economic terms
  • Every coastal member state wanted to catch as many fish as possible, despite dwindling stocks and scientific warnings

KILKEEL, Northern Ireland: When it comes to UK-European Union relations, there’s nothing like slapping a fish around. After all, both sides have been contesting who rules their waves practically since the United Kingdom became a member in 1973.
So it’s not so surprising that once the United Kingdom officially leaves the EU on Friday night, one of the first things the two sides will wrestle over during negotiations on their post-divorce relationship is the comparatively tiny fisheries industry.
“Perhaps in many ways, fisheries is the acid test of Brexit,” said British politician and leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage.
Industry and financial services are much more important in economic terms. But somehow fish and chips in Britain and sole meuniere on the continent stir much stronger emotions.
“For example, our car industry and chemicals industry alone are worth 20 times the value of the fishing industry.” said Chris Davies, an English Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament who is head of the EU’s fisheries committee until he leaves on Friday.
“It is much more important, of course, to the economy in Britain as a whole that we get access for those products,” Davies said.
That doesn’t ring right in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland, and other UK ports where resentment against EU fishing policies that allow vessels from other nations in the bloc to catch stocks in rich British waters runs deep.
“This fleet has been stymied now for, what, 30, 30-plus years in terms of fish being taken off us and given to other member states. It has been a struggle,” said Alan McCulla, CEO of the local ANIFPO fishing cooperative.
“Fishermen here have lost thousands of tons of fishing opportunities valued at millions of pounds,” McCulla said.
Brexiteers have thrived for years on similar words of perceived wrongdoing by faceless bureaucrats encroaching on age-old British sovereignty. And no one has done that more effectively than Farage, who has been driving the UK toward the EU’s exit door for decades, mostly from inside the European Parliament itself — where he served as a British MEP for over two decades.
Farage knows how the briny whiff of the sea tugs at the nation’s heartstrings.
“The greatness of Britain has always been what we’ve done on the seas, whether it’s through the Royal Navy or through our merchant fleets,” Farage said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So fisheries is actually — symbolically — very, very important.”
Farage led a flotilla of fishing boats up the River Thames to Britain’s Parliament in last-ditch campaigning before the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016. It turned out that every bit helped, as Britain stunningly decided to leave the bloc with a narrow 52 percent-48 percent margin.
Fish in waters off Britain were still abundant in the 1970s and fishing towns still thrived.
But for just about the duration of Britain’s membership, stocks of North Sea cod to English Channel sole were in decline. And for British fishermen it was easy to point fingers at foreign vessels and EU headquarters in Brussels. Every coastal member state wanted to catch as many fish as possible, despite dwindling stocks and scientific warnings.
First, the EU forced boats to stay in ports and restricted quotas, limiting access to fish. And when British fishermen then saw EU boats in their shared waters, anger came naturally.
The broad promise of Brexit always was to regain control and there is a physical sense of control when a 200-nautical mile zone is set for the UK, instead of the current 12 miles.
“The UK should determine what level of access from EU boats is allowed in. It shouldn’t be a free-for-all just because they’ve been there for years and years. The rules have changed, and we’re taking back control of our own waters,” said Brian Chambers, who owns the “Boy Paul” with his brother and mainly fishes off the coast of Ireland and the Isle of Man for crab and scallops. He voted “leave.”
Farage says Brexit could make sure boom years lie ahead for Britain’s workforce of 8,000 fishermen that nets just under €1 billion ($1.1 billion) worth of annual catches.
“If we get fisheries right, we will bring tens of thousands of jobs back to our coastal communities,” he said.
However, the EU has already made it clear negotiations won’t be that simple. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s office has already informed diplomats from the 27 member states that “reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained.” That means pretty much looking for the status quo that UK fishermen hate so much.
And the EU can also play the history card.
“European vessels have been fishing in those waters forever. The Vikings would have dragged a net behind their longboats when they came over 1,000 years ago,” Davies, of the EU parliament fisheries committee, said.
“So, not surprisingly, the Dutch and the French and others are saying ‘we want this to continue, historically, it’s our right,’” he said.
Furthermore, while Britons may have their fish-rich waters, the EU has an even richer consumer market.
“British fishermen are going to have to accept that so long as they are selling 70% of all the fish they catch into the European continental market, their bargaining power is not that great,” Davies said.
Again, fishermen can already feel the squeeze. Even if they are revered and romanticized for being some of the last true hunters in Europe, many have long been squeezed out economically. As fish needed to be protected, they felt the politicians didn’t protect them. The promise of Brexit gave them a new hope, but now the realities of hard-nosed negotiations set in.
The fear is that their desire to get better ownership of their fishing grounds might just become the merest of pawns in the talks between both sides.
McCulla of the ANIFPO cooperative is trying to look at the bright side.
“I’ve no doubt that Europeans will still be able to fish in UK waters in the future,” he said. “But the important difference is that they will have to have that access under the terms of UK PLC, not under the terms of Brussels. And in the future Britannia will rule Britannia’s waves.”