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Vietnam and China face off in South China Sea

By Nguyen Phuong Linh and Michael Martina

(Reuters) - Vietnam said on Wednesday a Chinese vessel intentionally rammed two of its ships in a part of the disputed South China Sea where Beijing has deployed a giant oil rig, sending tensions spiraling in the region.

The foreign ministry in Hanoi said the collisions took place on Sunday and caused considerable damage to the Vietnamese ships. Six people sustained minor injuries, it said.

Tensions Rise in South China Sea as Ships Collide

"On May 4, Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels," said Tran Duy Hai, a foreign ministry official and deputy head of Vietnam's national border committee.

"Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels. Water cannon was used," he told a news conference in Hanoi. Six other ships were also hit, other officials said, but not as badly.

Dozens of navy and coastguard vessels from both countries are in the area where China has deployed the giant rig, Vietnamese officials have said.

"No shots have been fired yet," said a Vietnamese navy official, who could not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to media. "Vietnam won't fire unless China fires first."

The tensions between the two Communist nations come as both are trying to put aside border disputes and the memories of a brief but bloody border war in 1979. Vietnam is usually careful about public comments against China, with which it had bilateral trade surpassing $50 billion in 2013.

However, Hanoi has strongly condemned the operation of the drilling rig in what it says are its waters in the South China Sea, and told China's state-run oil company CNOOC to remove it.

The United States has also criticized the move.

The row comes days after U.S. President Barack Obama visited Asia to underline his commitment to allies there, including Japan and the Philippines, both locked in territorial disputes with China.

Obama, promoting a strategic "pivot" toward the Asia-Pacific region, also visited South Korea and Malaysia, but not China.

China has not yet responded to the Vietnamese allegations of ramming, but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said earlier on Wednesday that the deployment of the rig had nothing to do with the United States, or Vietnam.

"The United States has no right to complain about China's activities within the scope of its own sovereignty," she said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.


Tensions are also brewing in another part of the South China Sea where Beijing has demanded the Philippines release a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized on Tuesday.

Chief Superintendent Noel Vargas of the Philippine National Police Maritime Group said a maritime police patrol apprehended a Chinese fishing boat around 7 a.m. on Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

The boat has 11 crew and police found about 350 turtles in the vessel, some of which were already dead, a police report said, adding that a Philippine boat with crew was also seized, and found to have 70 turtles on board. Several species of sea turtles are protected under Philippine law.

Maritime police are now towing the boats to Puerto Princesa town on the island of Palawan where appropriate charges will be filed against them, Vargas said.

China said the Philippines had to release the boat and the fishermen.

"China's Foreign Ministry and China's ambassador to the Philippines have made representations to the Philippines side, demanding that it provide a rational explanation and immediately release the people and the vessel", ministry spokeswoman Hua said.

"We once again warn the Philippines not to take any provocative actions," she said, adding that China had "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly Islands.

There are frequent tensions in the South China Sea between China and the other claimant nations, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, both of which say Beijing has harassed their ships in the waters there.

While there are frequent stand-offs between fishermen and the various claimant states in the South China Sea, the actual detention of Chinese fishermen or the seizure of a boat is rare.


An oil industry official in China said the deployment of the rig owned by China's CNOOC oil company to waters near Vietnam appeared to be a political decision rather than a commercial one.

"This reflected the will of the central government and is also related to the U.S. strategy on Asia," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

"It is not commercially driven. It is also not like CNOOC has set a big exploration blueprint for the region."

However, Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, a government think-tank in the southern province of Hainan, said China was unlikely to pay much heed to Vietnamese concerns.

"If we stop our work there as soon as Vietnam shouts, China will not be able to achieve anything in the South China Sea," Wu said.

"We have lost a precious opportunity to drill for oil and gas in the Spratlys. Also this time we are drilling in Xisha (Paracel Islands), not Nansha (Spratlys), there is no territorial dispute there. I think China will keep moving ahead with its plan (in Xisha), no matter what Vietnam says and does."

Tran Duy Hai, the Vietnamese foreign ministry official, raised the possibility of Hanoi taking the dispute to international arbitration.

"We cannot exclude any measures, including international legal action, as long as it is peaceful.

"We are a peace-loving nation that has experienced many wars," he said. "If this situation goes too far, we will use all measures in line with international law to protect our territory. We have limitations, but we will stand up to any Chinese aggression."

The Philippines has already taken its dispute with China to an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Manuel Mogato in Manila and Charlie Zhu in Hong Kong; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Join the discussion

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GUNSLINGER May 08 2014 at 8:47 AM

Wake me when the shooting starts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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simons776 May 07 2014 at 10:47 PM

This is what happens when you take all the jobs & manufacturing amongst other things to China & make them a power house. Now that they have grown to that level that they can bully anybody anyway they want. Your reap what you seed. This is nothing, just wait until China becomes the super power of the world in the next several years & that's when the **** will hit the fan. Yes, keep making China stronger & stronger & take all the technology & advancements of the West to them on a plate inc. all the investments & that's when it will come back to haunt you.

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1 reply
omacees12 simons776 May 08 2014 at 1:15 AM

CHINA been the world power house CHINA construction bank and the bank of CHINA as the most asset in one setting in the WORLD but those people are very tricky they keep turning the clock backward and messing up the GDP grout as to stay third WORLD and collect humanity grant
they get grant every year from western country to feed the 1.5 billion people
then the US as to borrow money back from them it made no sense but its true

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Oscar May 07 2014 at 10:14 PM

At this time China knows Vietnam isn't protected by the US unlike it's neighbors in the region. When they try this on the disputed islands and atolls with Japan and the Philippines, it would be a different matter because of US obligations to these countries. Hopefully Vietnam will be able to enforce it's rule. There has been a long history of wars between the two and Vietnam had basically been able to fend them off. Now out in the deep seas it could be another matter as China would obviously have a stronger navy. Vietnam would have an advantage though as far as proximity and flight time to respond to the area with fighter jets. No more water cannons in that case.

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bwhite12257 May 07 2014 at 8:52 PM

weak knee obammy is in on this...he's limp, and the world knows it

Flag Reply +3 rate up
hmadden May 07 2014 at 8:03 PM

China is taking note of the current administrations lack of definitive action with regards to Russia's moves in the Crimea and Ukraine. It's grab it while we still can time! At least with regards to political and military power, nature does abhore a vacuum.

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James C. Nevers May 07 2014 at 7:28 PM

Well I expect John McCain will go before the Senate tomorrow (and the U.S. news media) and immediately call for the U.S. government & Obama to begin sending arms to Viet Nam to guarantee Viet Nam's ability to defend itself against further escalation by China in the South China Sea. McCain can be expected to say: "The President cannot continue to be weak as he has been in Syria, as he has been in the Ukraine....the President defend our Good Friends...The People of Viet Nam....The U.S. MUST guarantee Viet Nam's legal rights to the posession of The Sprately Islands. Dick Cheney & Halliburton's interests in the oil assests of the area have NOTHING TO DO with my support of the Vietnamese people. McCain went on to say: "I lived in Hanoi for 5 years during Viet Nam's unfortunate civil war,the kind people of North Viet Nam provided me with food and water for 5 years in a good sturdy building constructed of stone & strong steel bars even though their own citizens lived in wood & bamboo huts

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MSM30054 May 07 2014 at 6:26 PM

be carefull of your allies - remember the fall of troy

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John Roberson May 07 2014 at 6:21 PM

yeah and wonder where we get robusta coffee beans and some heroin from, oh probably in shipments from Vietnam maybe. do not want to upset world trade. Look at the opium trade out of Afghanistan.

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cdavecrz May 07 2014 at 6:21 PM

Oh and now the Philippines wants our military protection, after kicking us out. Let them pay for it, along with Euroupe, Japan, Saudia Arabia and others who have no real military and depend on the USA for security. A trillion from them each year could help our economy moreover pay for our defense cost.

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bigred8690 May 08 2014 at 12:58 AM

Full list of Chinese military victories of the last 200 years: ????
Last time they got their butts kicked: Vietnam 1979.

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