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.


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 15 December 2019

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”