China-Vietnam tension over South China Sea oil rigs
(26 June 2014)
The deployment of Chinese oil rigs 150 miles from Vietnam’s coast has increased tensions between the two countries. On 1 May 2014, state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation sited an oil rig southwest of the Chinese-claimed Paracel islands, and followed by placing a second rig in June in the Gulf of Tonkin between China’s Hainan Island and the Vietnamese coast. Vietnam claims that the rigs are within their 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The placement of these rigs has strained relations between China and Vietnam, who have each accused the other of ship rammings at sea. It also has caused a series of anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam, where protesters vandalised and set fire to several foreign-owned factories in central and southern Vietnam. The protests have caused a number of deaths as well as an exodus of Chinese business operators and their families living in Vietnam.
Vietnam and China have a fraught history regarding border disputes. China seized the Paracel islands from South Vietnam in 1974, and a month-long border war in 1979 led to the freezing of diplomatic relations between the two countries until 1991. However, China remains Vietnam’s largest trading partner. The South China Sea is the site of other disputed maritime claims: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, as well as Vietnam and China, are all parties to disputes in the region.
On 25 June 2014 state media in China released a new official map of the country that clearly claims disputed waters and islands within the South China Sea as Chinese territory. Bilateral discussions regarding the oil rigs are continuing in Vietnam with no progress reported.
Maritime Disputes Muddy Asian Waters, 20 June 2014, Voice of America
China warns Vietnam over deadly protests in territorial dispute, 16 May 2014, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/16/china-vietnam-protests-territorial-dispute
New Chinese map gives greater play to South China Sea claims, 25 June 2014, Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/25/us-china-diplomacy-map-idUSKBN0F00OI20140625