Vietnam Stands Up to China in Disputed Waters

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Vietnam is increasingly seizing the initiative in the South China Sea in a calculated challenge to China’s dominant position.

In recent days Vietnam openly defied China by drilling for oil in contested waters near the Spratly Islands. It has also loudly signalled stronger strategic ties with India and the United States, world powers with an interest in containing Beijing’s territorial ambitions.

After months of quiet diplomacy, and apparent efforts by Beijing and Hanoi to soothe tensions, Vietnam has shown that it remains a formidable obstacle to China’s expansion in the South China Sea.

The renewed tensions became apparent in late June when a top Chinese general, Fan Changlong, abruptly cut short a visit to Hanoi.

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The apparent reason emerged shortly afterwards: It was reported that Vietnam had begun drilling for oil in an area off its southeast coast – a stretch of sea also claimed by China as part of its ambitious “9-dash line” that includes much of the South China sea.

The BBC reported that a drilling ship on contract to the international company, Talisman-Vietnam, had been given the go-ahead after three years of inactivity in the area.

Beijing saw the move as an affront and a violation of a mutual agreement not to drill in disputed waters.

A foreign ministry spokesman said China opposed any “unilateral, illegal oil and gas activities in waters China has jurisdiction over”.

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