Vietnam is ready to fight China and other countries illegally entering its territorial waters, according to a report from Vietnamese news agency Thanh Nien.
The report indicated that the Vietnamese government implemented a new rule authorizing its coast guard to use its weapons onboard to prevent any foreign vessel entering its territorial waters.
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Political observers suggested that Vietnam’s decision was definitely a response to the concerns regarding China’s attempts to assert its claims on the disputed territories in the South China Sea.
The China-Vietnam oil rig standoff
The major friction between China and Vietnam happened in May last year when a Chinese deepwater oil rig (Haiyang Shiyou 981) entered the Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)—near the islands claimed by both countries. Vietnamese and Chinese vessels exchanged water cannon fires and rammed each other. Six Vietnamese sailors were injured during the incident.
The Chinese government removed the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig after two months. Political observers considered the standoff between the two countries as the most serious development related to the territorial disputes since the Johnson South Reef conflict in 1988 when 70 Vietnamese soldiers died.
In June, this year, the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig resumed its operations roughly 110 nautical miles east of the Vietnam coast and 72 miles south of the resort of the city of Sanya on China’s Hainan Island.
Last month, the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration announced that the oil rig would continue its ocean drilling operations slightly to the north from its position until October 20.
China and Vietnam agreed to handle disputes properly
Earlier this month, Chinese and Vietnamese leaders agreed to handle their disputes properly amid the increasing tension over the disputed territories in the South China Sea.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, “”We are in favor of properly handling disputes between both sides through dialogue, and expanding cooperation and common interests.”
Pres. Xi also emphasized that their countries are both led by communist parties, and it is necessary for them to “enhance strategic coordination, exchanges, and cooperation.”
On the other hand, Pres. Sang said, “Vietnam hopes to strengthen political trust and personnel exchanges with China, properly handle differences and enhance win-win cooperation.”
Vietnam’s new rule could escalate conflict with China
Under Vietnam’s new rule, it coast guard will start using their weapons onboard to drive away any foreign vessel entering its waters without permission. Vietnamese coast guards will not stop until a foreign vessel is completely out of the country’s territorial waters.
Vietnam claimed that some Chinese vessels have been attacking its fisherman while fishing bear the Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hiang Sa (Paracel) islands. According to the Vietnamese government, the attacks became more frequent since the oil rig standoff.
Political analysts suggested the possibility of an escalation of the conflict between China and Vietnam related to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The Chinese government is claiming the largest portion of the disputed territories including the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea. China identified the area as the “nine-dash line,” which stretches hundreds of miles south and east of Hainan province. Beijing said the Spratly and Paracel islands were part of its territory centuries ago. It is supporting its claims using a 1947 map.
Vietnam strongly rejected China’s historical claims and pointed out that China never had sovereignty over the island prior to 1940s. The Vietnamese government said it has documents to prove that the Spratly and Paracel islands were under its rule since the 17th century.
Vietnam is currently occupying 29 reefs in the Spratly Islands and intensified its military facilities in the territories. In May, satellite images showed that Vietnam did land reclamation in the disputed areas of Sand Cay and West London Reef.
On the other hand, China has a de-facto control over eight reefs in the Spratly Islands. In 2012, China created a new city called Sansha with an administrative body and headquarters in the Paracel Islands. The Chinese government said Sansha city is responsible for overseeing its territories in the South China Sea.