China Threatens neighbors in South China Sea

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New Delhi: With the Olympics behind now, China has begun flexing its muscles to browbeat its neighbors to fall in line or face the music. Serious concerns have been expressed, especially by Vietnam, over the recent intense activities of the Chinese Navy in and around the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, says a blog post.

Taking advantage of the 7th Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) on October 24-25 in Beijing, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung arrived in the Chinese capital a day before the summit to discuss the issue with the Chinese leaders.

James Crickton, a London based analyst of Asian issues, writes in his blog (asiapost.blogspot.com) that Chinese naval vessels have adopted threatening postures to mount pressure against Vietnamese oil exploration activities in and around the disputed islands for alleged violation of Chinese territorial waters. “The Vietnamese Government, however, held that oil exploration was undertaken within their continental shelf and the EEZ. Exxon Mobil, which entered into a joint exploration agreement with PetroVietnam, had been forced to terminate their activity around Spratly islands following Chinese threats”.

A Norwegian ship, hired by Vietnam, for oil exploration was intercepted by the Chinese naval ships and threatened to fire unless it leaves the disputed area in the South China Sea region.

James reports that Vietnamese authorities had contended that the exploration is being carried out within their EEZ and China had no reason to launch such threats. They have launched strenuous diplomatic efforts to convince the Chinese of their claims. The matter was also discussed during the recent visit of Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, and the latter assured the Vietnamese authorities of US support.

The Vietnamese have complained that the Chinese fishing, oil exploration and Coast Guard vessels continue to intrude into Vietnamese territorial waters. Even in Tonkin Gulf area, where Vietnam and China had reached an agreement in the year 2000 on the territorial waters, the situation became tense a couple of months ago when Chinese vessels intruded into Vietnamese waters for oil exploration.

The Chinese vessels left the area only after they were challenged by the Vietnamese Navy. In order to step up its military presence in the South China Sea, China is also contemplating deploying JIN Class 094 nuclear submarine and Shang Class submarine this month.

China-sponsored websites have also been carrying ‘extremely objectionable’ anti-Vietnamese articles, including a reported defence strategy to attack Vietnam and occupy it through military means, says the report.

According to James Crickton, China’s threatening military postures may be an early indication of reversal of its foreign policy toward its neighbours. After its ‘adventure’ on Vietnam in 1972 and other minor conflicts with rest of the neighbors in South East Asia, Jiang Zemin’s regime realised the need for a better image for quick economic development and launched a policy of ‘Good Neighborly relations’ in 1989-90. China’s approval of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea at the 8th ASEAN Summit (Nov 2002) and its Joint Declaration at the Bali ASEAN Summit (October 2003) helped in creating a positive atmosphere on the issue of disputed islands and improving its relations with neighbors.

Having reached its zenith in economic growth with a massive $2 trillion foreign exchange reserve cushion and all other economic powers slipped to a recession, hawks in the Chinese Communist Party may now be pushing for a hard-line vis-a-vis regional disputes including that of Taiwan, the Asiapost blog opines.

Could that mean a military solution? Time will tell.