[NYT 11/06/2011] Dispute Between Vietnam and China Escalates… (Michael Wines)

“The question is what Chinese fishing boats did in the region where its own government imposed the fishing ban at that time? Is it legal and consistent even in the interpretation of the Chinese government?

Article: Dispute Between Vietnam and China Escalates Over Competing Claims in South China Sea


Vietnam said on Friday that it would conduct live-fire naval exercises off its coast next week, a step that escalated a long-running dispute with China over territory in the South China Sea that both nations claim.

It is true that Vietnam conducted live-fire naval exercises on June 13, 2011, lasting about several hours. These drills took place around Hon Ong Island, just about 25 nautical miles (NM) off Quang Nam province in central Vietnam, well inside Vietnam’s 200-NM EEZ. These drills were mainly related to naval artillery, but no missiles were fired.

Almost at the same time (since June 18, 2011), the Chinese navy also conducted three days of exercises — including live-fire drills — in the disputed waters of the Southeast Asia Sea, hundreds of miles from China’s southernmost border. The scale of Chinese navy’s drills is much larger than Vietnam’s ones. Chinese state television showed video of Chinese patrol boats firing repeated rounds at a target on what looked like an uninhabited island, as twin fighter jets streaked in tandem overhead. The report said 14 vessels participated in the maneuvers, staging antisubmarine and beach landing drills aimed at “defending atolls and protecting sea lanes.”

Obviously, in terms of scale and location of the two countries’ drills, China’s ones are more likely to escalate the tensions in the Southeast Asia Sea than Vietnam’s ones.


The episode, Vietnam said, took place within the exclusive economic zone, extending 200 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast, that is reserved for Hanoi under international law. China said it took place outside that zone.

The Binh Minh 02 (the Vietnamese research vessel’s name) incident, which occurred on May 26, 2011, took place at 12o48’25”N and 111o26’48”E, 120 NM off Vietnam’s continental coast and 180 NM off the Paracels’ Triton Island, and about 370 NM (600 km) from China’ Hainan Island. Triton Island is a barren rock that does not support human habitation or an economic life of its own, so it would be absurd to say that it has an EEZ out to 180 NM, while the continental coast has only 120 NM.

It is also important to remind that China’ navy forcibly invaded and took control of the Paracels in 1974 after a battle with South Vietnamese troops. Vietnam has been continuously claiming the sovereignty over the Paracels since then.

Regarding the Viking II incident, which occurred on June 9, 2011, then it again would be unreasonable to say that the incident took place outside Vietnam’s EEZ.

The coordination of the seismic exploration ship Viking 2 was at 6o47’5” N and 109o17’5”E when its research cable was run into and disabled by three Chinese vessels, 188 NM off Vietnam’ Côn Đảo Island, 192 NM off the Spratly Island – the nearest Spratlys feature that could possibly have any EEZ, and about 600 NM from China’ Hainan Island.

The Spratly Island is 0.13 km2 while Côn Đảo Island alone is about 50 km2. If the Spratly Island’s EEZ is contested against Côn Đảo Island’s EEZ, the former cannot possibly go beyond the equidistance line.

It is also important to note that China is not the only country claiming the Spratlys. The majority of this archipelago, including the Spratly Island, has been under Vietnam’s factual control.

For more information on the locations and map of these two incidents, please click here.


China blames Hanoi for that episode, saying that armed Vietnamese boats were illegally chasing Chinese fishing boats out of the area, and that a fishing net accidentally snagged the research cable.

According to the press briefing by Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at 6 a.m. June 9, 2011, the Viking II, a vessel hired by Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group, was conducting 3D seismic exploration in Block 136/03 (coordination: 6 degrees 47.5’ North and 109 degrees 17.5’ East) within the continental shelf of Vietnam when Chinese fishing vessel No 62226, supported by two Chinese Yuzheng fishery administration vessels No 311 and No 303, cut off Viking II, then veered with acceleration. Despite warning flares from the Vietnamese side, vessel 62226 headed on and rammed exploration cables of the Viking II. Its specialized cable slashing device was consequently trapped in the Viking II’s cables, jamming Viking II operation. As soon as that happened, Chinese Yuzheng 311 and 303, together with several Chinese fishing vessels, rushed to rescue Vessel 62226.

Based on the above detailed report and witnesses on the Viking II ship, it is clear that China’s vessels, intentionally rather than accidentally, provoked and sabotaged the Vietnam’s seismic survey vessel.

That incident took place inside Vietnam’s EEZ. Chinese vessels’ sabotaging actions inside Vietnam’ EEZ are illegal.

If one tracks back to the Binh Minh 02 incident, curiously enough, Nguyen Hong Quan, the captain of a guardian ship for the Binh Minh 02, said two days after the Binh Minh 02 incident, five Chinese fishing boats and a spy plane were spotted near the waters where the Binh Minh 02 was conducting oil exploration work.

It makes sense to point out that China’s “fishing boats” operated in the location around Binh Minh 02, where China unilaterally imposed its “fishing ban” at that time, namely north of 12 degrees latitude from 16 May 2011 to 1 August 2011. Of course, Vietnam strongly objected to this ban, because a large portion of this region is inside Vietnam’s EEZ. The question is what Chinese fishing boats did in the region where its own government imposed the fishing ban at that time? Is it legal and consistent even in the interpretation of the Chinese government?


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