Vietnam Quits South China Sea Drilling After China Threat

2017-07-24
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A Chinese coast guard ship (L) uses a water cannon on a Vietnamese ship in disputed waters in the South China Sea, May 2, 2014.
A Chinese coast guard ship (L) uses a water cannon on a Vietnamese ship in disputed waters in the South China Sea, May 2, 2014.
AFP/Vietnamese Foreign Ministry

Vietnam has ordered a private company conducting a gas-drilling expedition in a disputed area of the South China Sea to cease operations following military threats from China, according to reports.

The BBC reported Monday that Spanish-owned Repsol was ordered last week to leave the area, located about 400 kilometers (250 miles) off Vietnam’s southeast coast and called Block 136-03 by Hanoi, after Beijing said it would attack Vietnamese military bases in the contested Spratly Islands if drilling continued.

China claims sovereignty over more than 80 percent of the islands and other land features in the South China Sea and rejects conflicting claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The decision came days after Talisman-Vietnam, a subsidiary of Repsol that the Vietnamese government has leased the block to, confirmed the existence of a major gas field there, the report said. The company began drilling at the block on June 21.

Beijing calls the block Wanan Bei-21 and has leased it to a different company, though it was not immediately clear which one.

The Chinese rights were sold in 2015 to a Hong Kong-listed company called Brightoil, two directors of which are senior members of China’s ruling Communist Party, but the company has denied owning them.

The BBC cited an analyst who estimated that Repsol had spent around U.S. $300 million developing the field, and said Vietnam’s capitulation came as a surprise to observers.

Prior to the threats of attack, China had signaled its displeasure over Talisman-Vietnam’s activities in the area.

Days before the company began drilling last month, Fan Changlong, vice chair of China’s Central Military Commission, abruptly ended an official visit to Vietnam and a friendship meeting at the China-Vietnam border was canceled.

While China and Vietnam confronted one another with coastguard vessels and other ships in the South China Sea’s disputed Paracel Islands in 2014, the neighboring nations have largely avoided such standoffs since.

‘Major escalation’

Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert based in Australia who has taught at several defense universities, called Beijing’s threats of attack “a marked and alarming step up of Chinese assertiveness” and a “major escalation in China’s posture.”

In a background brief, he suggested that Vietnam’s pause in oil exploration at the block would have “long-term ramifications” and make foreign oil companies think twice about purchasing exploration rights from the country.

“Foreign oil companies, if they assessed the risk as serious, could demand protection from Vietnam or ‘cut bait and leave,’” Thayer said.

“If Vietnam stops exploration permanently this would have long-term implications for present oil contracts with foreign companies and more significantly, Vietnam’s future energy security.”

China’s threat also “raises a nightmare scenario” for Hanoi, according to Thayer, because any attack on a Vietnamese-occupied claim in the South China Sea would result in a “massive eruption of anti-Chinese sentiment” in Vietna

“This could seriously undermine the political authority of the current leadership,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Chinese attack on Vietnam would also likely set off alarm bells throughout Asia and leave the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) split on how to respond, Thayer said.

Such an attack “would be like throwing down the gauntlet” to the U.S., Japan and other maritime powers who reject China’s territorial claims, he added.

“Do they really want to go to war with China to protect Vietnam’s oil industry or over a few little rocks in the South China Sea?"

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Comments (2)
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Chuck

ghet bac Ho
So what do you suggest the VN government to do? Would you be willing to fight China right now and rick losing all of the Spratley and possibly million of Vietnamese lives? I like to hear your answer.

Jul 29, 2017 03:31 AM

Hate Communists

from ghet bac Ho

As a VNmese; regardless of North or South, VNCH or Communist; this article should give them a heartburn and deep hatred toward China and the current VN government – stupid and spineless communists!
Fangs Pham, I would like to see your comments too.

Couple points here:
About China:
• China is indeed a new bully on the block. They are reckless, ruthless, and determined to rule with an iron fist!
• We should ban all Chinese products!
• The Asian block needs to review and band together vs China on all facets – the world will need to be ready, you are next!

About VN:
• I’m glad they can’t drill. The country would not profit from this, so why make these communists even richer!
• VNmese communists are a bunch of cowards. They know they can only have ‘table scraps’ from the Chinese table. You can blindfold the Chinese eyes with a strand of tooth floss, but you can’t cover their eyes with a large drill rig in the Pacific!

About Mr. Thayer’s comments:
• These ‘little rocks’ as you described are paid for by sweat, blood, and lives of our country men. These are part of VN territory and sovereignty.
• Their sacrifices aren’t meaningless to us.
• Classroom pencil neck as yourself need to learn about respect!

Jul 24, 2017 04:27 PM

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