Vietnam halted a gas-drilling project in the South China Sea after the Chinese government warned Hanoi to stop production in the area.
The Chinese government threatened to attack Vietnamese bases in the Spratly Islands if Talisman-Vietnam, a subsidiary of the Spanish company Repsol Oil, did not stop drilling in the region, according to a report by the BBC which was corroborated by Vietnamese officials.
Vietnam calls the region Block 136-03, and leased it to Repsol, according to the BBC. However, China’s name for the region is Wanan Bei-21, and they too leased the land out – to a different, unidentified company.
Repsol reportedly spent $300 million drilling in the area and began drilling June 21, according to the International Business Times.
In a press conference July 25, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang explained China’s justification for halting the drilling project.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters, the seabed and subsoil thereof,” Kang said in the press conference. “China urges the relevant party to stop its unilateral actions that infringe upon China’s rights and safeguard with concrete actions the sound situation in the South China Sea that does not come easily.”
Countries in the region have hotly disputed boundaries in the South China Sea. Although China claims a huge portion of the region for itself, called the nine-dash line, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all want access to portions of China’s claimed oceanic territory, according to the BBC. Critics also point out that China’s nine-dash-line has no coordinates, and allege that China’s claim is both unclear and unfair.
The area may have large reserves of natural resources and is a ripe fishing location and popular shipping route, according to the BBC.
Even as Vietnam opens up to tourism and offers a Vietnam visa on arrival, the Philippines and Indonesia are preparing to stake new claims in the sea, according to CNBC. The Philippines plan on starting up oil and gas drilling in the Reed Bank after three years, and Indonesia has renamed portions of the water.
In 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese coastguards confronted each other in the open waters. Vietnam alleges that a Chinese ship rammed into Vietnamese vessels near a Chinese oil rig. Since then, the two countries have attempted to maintain peaceful negotiations, and Chinese officials said the nation wants to maintain peace in the South China Sea, according to the IB Times.