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.


Russia warns Belarus will pay price for contractors’ arrests

Updated 05 August 2020

Russia warns Belarus will pay price for contractors’ arrests

  • Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said that the Belarusian leadership has turned bilateral ties into “small change in the election campaign”
  • Medvedev described the arrested contractors as part of a “simple political technology — to create an enemy image and to achieve a political result using that enemy image”

MOSCOW: Russia’s security chief described the arrest of 33 Russian private military contractors in Belarus as a presidential campaign stunt and warned Wednesday that it would have grave consequences for ties between the two neighbors and allies.
Authorities arrested the Russian contractors outside the capital of Minsk last week on charges of planning to stage mass riots, amid an upsurge of opposition protests ahead of the Sunday election — in which Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is seeking a sixth term.
Russia has demanded the release of the contractors for a private firm, saying they only were in Belarus because they missed a connecting flight to another country. The government in Minsk has further irked Moscow by raising the possibility that some of the contractors could be handed over to Ukraine, which wants them on charges of fighting alongside Russia-backed separatists.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, sharply raised the stakes in the dispute Wednesday, saying that the Belarusian leadership has turned bilateral ties into “small change in the election campaign.”
Without mentioning Lukashenko by name, Medvedev described the arrested contractors as part of a “simple political technology — to create an enemy image and to achieve a political result using that enemy image.”
“It’s not only offensive, it’s very sad,” said Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president in 2008-2012 and then as prime minister for the next eight years, before becoming No. 2 in the Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin. “And it will entail sad consequences, too.”
Throughout his 26 years in office, the authoritarian Lukashenko has relied on Russian subsidies and loans to shore up his nation’s Soviet-style economy but fiercely resisted Moscow’s push for control over Belarus’s economic assets.
The Kremlin turned the heat up on the Belarusian president earlier this year by withdrawing some of the subsidies and warning the government it would have to accept closer economic and political integration to continue receiving Russian energy at a discount.
Lukashenko denounced Moscow’s position as part of Russia’s alleged efforts to deprive Belarus of its independence.
The 65-year-old president alleged in a state-of-the-nation address on Tuesday that another group of “militants” had been sent to southern Belarus, but gave no details. He warned Moscow against trying to fuel tensions in his country, saying that the instability could spread to Russia.
In a move certain to anger the Kremlin even more, Lukashenko had a phone call Wednesday with the president of Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked for Belarus to hand over 28 of the arrested Russians so they can be prosecuted for allegedly fighting alongside Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Belarusian authorities claimed the arrested contractors worked for the Wagner company. The private military firm is linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman who was indicted in the United States for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Wagner has allegedly deployed hundreds of military contractors to eastern Ukraine, Syria and Libya.