After a long period of relative calm, South China Sea politics are heating up again. Vietnam and the Philippines are pushing to develop oil and gas exploration projects, and China has awarded new drilling contracts in the region. On 26 May 2011, there was a clash between Vietnamese and Chinese ships over the Spratly islands.
Report & Analysis: Old problem, new threats [Bangkok Post, 30 May 2011]
Hanoi announced that three Chinese marine surveillance vessels approached a ship operated by the state oil and gas firm PetroVietnam and cut its exploration cables. A complaint lodged at the Chinese embassy in Hanoi said the incident "seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty" and a 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, AFP reported.
Report & Analysis: Vietnam demands China stop sovereignty violations [ThanhNienNews, 29 May 2011]
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jiang Yu argued that Vietnam’s oil and gas operations have ‘undermined China's interests and jurisdictional rights in the South China Sea and violated the consensus both countries have reached on the issue".
Report & Analysis: China discusses South China Sea issue with Indonesia, Philippines during Defense Minister’s visit [Xinhua Net, 25 May 2011]
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Nga explained that the area where Vietnam conducted explorations is “entirely within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.” This EEZ is neither a disputed area nor an area “managed by China.”
China is intentionally misleading the public opinion into thinking it is a disputed area, she said.
The spokesperson also pointed out that while China calls for solving relevant disputes through peaceful measures; its own action is making the situation in the South China Sea more complicated.
China believes in bilateral negotiation and not internationalization when it comes to resolving maritime disputes. However, many stakeholders believe that the situation cannot be solved with only bilateral negotiation since it involves several claimants and stakeholders.