By Jon Dougherty
(NationalSentinel) The United States has picked sides in a growing dispute between Vietnam and China over the former’s “long-standing” oil exploration rights in the South China Sea, and it isn’t Beijing, it’s Hanoi.
In a rather blunt statement, the U.S. State Department issued a warning to China to cease its “bullying” operations in waters traditionally claimed by Vietnam as Beijing seeks to interfere with Hanoi’s oil and gas exploration.
On Saturday, State Dept. spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said China was the one interfering with legal exploration operations.
“China’s repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states threaten regional energy security and undermine the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market,” Ortagus said.
“China should cease its bullying behavior and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilizing activity,” she stated.
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Beijing has increasingly been blocking development within the South China Sea, nearly all of which is claimed by Beijing but most of which has always been international waters.
Pompeo said China is employing “gray zone” coercive measures that seek to prevent regional powers from developing an estimated $2.5 trillion in energy reserves in their own Exclusive Economic Zones — waters off their coastlines.
“China’s reclamation and militarization of disputed outposts in the [South China Sea], along with other efforts to assert its unlawful SCS maritime claims, including the use of maritime militia to intimidate, coerce, and threaten other nations, undermine the peace and security of the region,” Ortagus said.
In addition, Beijing has attempted to pressure members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to accept an agreement restricting regional powers’ abilities to partner with third-party energy companies and countries, the Washington Free Beacon notes.
The coercion is an indication Beijing is seeking “to assert control over oil and gas resources in the South China Sea,” the spokeswoman said.
“The United States firmly opposes coercion and intimidation by any claimant to assert its territorial or maritime claims,” she added.
China has tried to claim some 90 percent of the South China Sea as its historical territorial waters, knowing full well, of course, that those waters are rich in natural resources.
To enforce its claims, China is building a modern blue-water navy complete with aircraft carriers and stealthy attack submarines, in addition to militarizing manmade islands located in the center of the South China Sea.
The U.N. Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled three years ago, however, that the Chinese claim to own the South China Sea, based on a vaguely defined Nine-Dash Line around the waterway, was illegal.
China, however, has rejected the court ruling.
As for Vietnam, China fought a brief war with that country in 1979 after launching an invasion aimed at ‘punishing’ Hanoi after it invaded and occupied neighboring Cambodia. Historians generally consider that Vietnam won the conflict but both sides claimed victory. China withdrew its forces about a month after invading and was unsuccessful in dissuading Hanoi from its occupation of Cambodia. Vietnamese troops remained in Cambodia until 1989.
The Free Beacon noted further:
Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, said last week that China conducted a series of provocative missile tests in the South China Sea as part of messages to the United States by China’s defense minister.
The Chinese fired six anti-ship ballistic missiles in the South China Sea in the first sea launch of the new DF-21D missile. The unique missile is designed to sink U.S. aircraft carriers at sea with a maneuvering warhead.
The Pentagon also said the missile tests were a violation of a 2015 pledge made by Chinese President Xi Jinping not to militarize disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Renewed tensions between Hanoi and Beijing have been increasing in recent months.
On July 20, Vietnam’s government demanded that China remove a survey vessel and Coast Guard vessels near Vanguard Bank, a reef located in the western part of the Spratly Islands claimed by both countries, the Philippines, and others.
The demand came after the ships began conducting undersea seismic tests earlier this month. Vietnam responded by sending its own Coast Guard vessels to the region, but Hanoi’s naval assets are really no match for China’s.
This latest dispute is the most serious between the two countries since May 2014, when China sent an escorted mobile oil rig platform to the Paracel Islands. In response, Vietnam sent warships to the region to prevent the Chinese from attaching the platform to the seabed. They were confronted by Chinese warship escorts.
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