Vietnam objected Thursday to China’s recent reported laying of undersea cables in the disputed Paracel Islands, saying it was a violation of Vietnamese sovereignty.
The Foreign Ministry comment came as Vietnam deployed a coastguard vessel into another contested island chain in the South China Sea, the Spratlys, in apparent response to the presence of Chinese maritime militia around a Vietnamese outpost there.
In Hanoi, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang was asked about a BenarNews report on Monday, also carried by Radio Free Asia, that a Chinese ship was laying or repairing undersea cables near Chinese outposts in the Paracels.
The reporting was based on commercial satellite imagery and vessel-tracking software, and was cited extensively by Vietnamese state media this week.
“Vietnam has sufficient historical evidence and legal grounds affirming its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes in accordance with international law,” Hang told reporters, according to the state-run Vietnam News Agency.
“Therefore, any activity relating to the two archipelagoes conducted without Vietnam’s permission are violations of its sovereignty and of no value,” she said.
U.S.-based experts interviewed by RFA said the cable work suggested that China was installing an undersea surveillance system for its occupied features in the Paracels, further militarizing the region.
Vietnam and China both claim the Paracel Islands, a series of rocks and reefs in the north of the South China Sea.
Vietnamese coast guard enters disputed area
Meanwhile, RFA and BenarNews have detected that a Vietnamese coastguard vessel has entered the Union Banks, an area in the Spratlys that hosts four Vietnamese and two Chinese-occupied military outposts.
The coastguard vessel, identifiable as the CSB-8005 on vessel-tracking software and spotted on satellite imagery, entered the area on June 4 and is currently patrolling nearby the Vietnamese outpost on Sinh Ton Dong/Sin Cowe East Island.
It appears likely that the Vietnamese coastguard ship was sent to scare off Chinese maritime militia vessels. There has been a near-continuous presence of the maritime militia in the Union Banks area since March.
Satellite imagery shows what appears to be at least 30 Chinese fishing vessels located directly north of Sinh Ton Dong as of June 5, and vessel-tracking software indicates that at least five maritime militia ships are in the area too.
As of Thursday, the software showed the maritime militia were still in the Union Banks area, but had moved farther east.
In Union Banks, China occupies Johnson South Reef and Hughes Reef. Vietnam occupies Collins Reef, Sin Cowe Island/Dao Sinh Ton, Sin Cowe East/Sinh Ton Dong, and Lansdowne Reef.
China maintains it has “historic rights” to the entirety of the South China Sea, a claim that Vietnam and others claimants strongly object to.