Vietnam has asked China to remove an oil drillship that is operating near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea after Beijing reportedly tested numerous formidable new missiles.
Large-scale standoffs have been reported between several coastguard ships from the two countries as the drillship neared the Spratlys, which are within Vietnam’s internationally recognised exclusive economic zone.
Between June 29 and July 3, China test-fired anti-ship, medium-range missiles into 22,000 square kilometres of the South China Sea between the Paracel and Spratly islands. The waters are claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam and are close to commercial air and sea routes.
China is believed to have been testing the 1,500km-range DF-21D or “carrier killer”.
The missile, which is not thought to have been tested before, is designed to attack aircraft carriers and drops vertically onto a target and is manoeuvrable until its final phase.
The longer-range DF-26 was also reportedly tested. It has a range of up to 5,000km and can carry a nuclear warhead. Guam, where the US has a major military base, is within its range, earning the missile nickname the “Guam Express”.
The tests were seen as a warning to Washington that its vessels were vulnerable within the South China Sea.
Exploration for fossil fuels in the resource-rich sea is seen as one activity that might spark a conflict.
“Over the last several days, the Chinese survey ship, Haiyang Dizhi 8, and its escorts conducted activities in the southern area of the East Sea that violated Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” Vietnam’s foreign affairs ministry stated. “This area lies entirely within the Vietnamese waters.”
China must stop the “unlawful activities” and leave Vietnamese waters, the ministry said.
Shipping data shows the Chinese drillship near where the Russian oil firm Rosneft began drilling on May 12 in a joint venture with Vietnam.
Seven artificial island military bases have been built in the South China Sea by Beijing in the past five years.
Vietnam and China had several violent engagements between 1974 and 1988 over control of the Spratly and Parcel islands.
In 2014, riots broke out across Vietnam after a Chinese rig entered disputed waters.
In 2017, Vietnam’s unexplained decision to suddenly cancel a drilling contract with Repsol occurred during a standoff with China.
China claims waters within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone as well as territory claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Indonesia.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “We hope the Vietnamese side can earnestly respect China’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the waters and do not take any move that may complicate matters.”
The Chinese navy is increasingly assertive in the region. Picture credit: Wikimedia