The Big Story: South China Sea Showdown
The China-Vietnam showdown in the South China Sea has now escalated. It started in the first week of July when Haiyang Dizhi 8, a Chinese survey vessel began surveying sea beds in the north-eastern part of the Vanguard Bank, which falls within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Chinese coastguards and maritime militia accompanied Haiyang Dizhi 8 during the survey. Vietnam claims China’s actions have challenged its sovereignty. Now the Chinese coast guards and maritime militia have blocked the Vietnamese oil exploration projects at the Vanguard Bank near the Spratly Islands. China has increased its coast guard and militia deployments near blocks 05.1 and 06.1 in the Vietnamese EEZ.
China’s incursions into Vietnam’s EEZ is not a new phenomenon. The most recent incident before this occurred in 2014, when China claimed an oil rig in Vietnam’s EEZ. This sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two neighbours. But a legal angle complicates matters this time. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration declared China’s ‘nine-dash line’ to be illegal. This is the first time since then that China has engaged in a sea-bed survey. Beijing had openly challenged the legality of the 2016 ruling.