PetroVietnam said two Chinese fishing boats cut across cables being laid by the survey vessel Binh Minh 2 off the coast of central Vietnam on Friday.

“PetroVietnam vehemently protests the Chinese fishing boats’ action against the Binh Minh 2,” Pham Viet Dung, the deputy head of exploration at the company, said in a statement on the company’s website. “We ask that China educate its citizens to respect Vietnamese waters.”

Chinese and Vietnamese Foreign Ministry officials had no immediate comment.

China claims most of the South China Sea, bringing it into conflict with its smaller neighbors. Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim part of the waters, which are believed to be rich in gas and oil reserves as well as fish stocks. China, which is strengthening its navy, has been increasingly assertive in pressing its claims as its economy as grown in recent years.

It is the second time that Chinese fishing vessels have reportedly damaged the Vietnamese survey ship’s cables. An incident in June last year off Vietnam’s central coast triggered rare street protests in Hanoi.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the reported incident took place in contested waters. PetroVietnam said it occurred 43 miles (69 kilometers) from the small island of Con Co.

China recently issued new passports featuring a map showing its territorial claims in the South China Sea, angering Vietnam and the Philippines, which have refused to stamp the passports.

Vietnam has also protested a recent announcement by the China National Offshore Oil Corp. opening nine oil and gas lots for international bidders in areas overlapping with existing Vietnamese exploration blocks. Vietnam says the lots lie entirely within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

The Associated Press - December 3, 2012

Indian Navy ready to protect oil interests in South China Sea

New Delhi: The Indian navy is prepared to deploy vessels to the South China Sea to protect India’s oil interests there, the navy chief said on Monday amid growing international fears over the potential for naval clashes in the disputed region. India has sparred diplomatically with China in the past over its gas and oil exploration block off the coast of Vietnam. China claims virtually the entire mineral-rich South China Sea and has stepped up its military presence there. Other nations such as Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia have competing claims. State-run explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) has a stake in a gas field in the Nam Con Son basin, off Vietnam’s south coast. Navy chief Admiral D.K Joshi said while India was not a claimant in the dispute over territorial rights in the South China Sea, it was prepared to act, if necessary, to protect its maritime and economic interests in the region. “When the requirement is there, for example, in situations where our country’s interests are involved, for example ONGC ... we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that,” Joshi told a news conference. “Now, are we preparing for it? Are we having exercises of that nature? The short answer is yes,” he said. He described the modernisation of China’s navy as “truly impressive” and acknowledged that it was a source of major concern for India. Any display of naval assertiveness by India in the South China Sea would likely fuel concern that the navies of the two rapidly growing Asian giants could be on a collision course as they seek to protect trade routes and lock in the supply of coal, minerals and other raw material from foreign sources. “It is one of the most important international waterways and freedom of navigation there is an issue of utmost concern to India because a large portion of India’s trade is through the South China Sea,” said Brahma Chellaney, analyst at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Chellaney, however, played down Joshi’s comments, saying the Indian navy’s focus would remain on the Indian Ocean, which the Asian nation views as its strategic backyard.

New rules

In September 2011, an Indian warship sailing in the South China Sea to the Vietnamese port of Haiphong was challenged when a caller identifying himself as an official of the Chinese navy warned the ship on an open radio channel that it was entering Chinese waters. Nothing happened, the ship sailed on, and both India and China have since played down the incident, with New Delhi saying the vessel was well within international waters in the South China Sea and that there was no confrontation. China’s neighbours are fretting about a recent Chinese media report on new rules that will allow police in the southern Chinese province of Hainan to board and seize control of foreign ships which “illegally enter” its waters from 1 January. The Philippines on Saturday condemned the Chinese plan as illegal and Singapore, home to the world’s second-busiest container port, said on Monday it was concerned. Asked about the report of China’s plan to board ships, Joshi said India had the right to self-defence. Estimates for proven and undiscovered oil reserves in the South China Sea range as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the US Energy Information Administration said in a 2008 report. That would surpass every country’s proven oil reserves except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.

Reuters - December 3, 2012

Vietnam protests as Chinese ships again harass Vietnamese vessel

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador Monday to protest the latest incident at sea when a Vietnamese ship had its cables cut by Chinese fishing vessels.

The ministry handed over a diplomatic note to the Chinese envoy about the incident that occurred on November 30.

International experts warn that such action by Chinese ships in Vietnamese waters for the second time in nearly two years shows China will be “unrelenting” in staking its territorial claims in the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea.

Speaking to Thanh Nien on the phone Monday after PetroVietnam’s news website Petrotimes reported that the group’s exploration vessel Binh Minh 02 was harassed the same ship that was targeted 18 months ago Carl Thayer, a maritime analyst at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, said the latest incident was a “highly provocative act.”

It means that countries like Vietnam would find it “more difficult” to get foreign companies to work with them, if China “keeps this up,” he said.

While it is unclear if the Chinese government is involved in the recent incidents, the new passports printed with the nine-dash line showing China’s claims over 90 percent of the East Sea, and the harassment of Binh Minh 02 indicated that China “will be unrelenting in trying to stake out its claims,” he said.

He noted that since a code of conduct aimed at easing tensions in the East Sea would be finalized between ASEAN and China in two years' time, China is stepping up provocation while it still can, and there is “no pressure on it to play the game diplomatically.”

Kerry Brown, former head of the Asia Program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, said China's latest act signals it is “in no mood” to compromise on maritime border issues.

But it is not yet a “hard strategic move,” but “largely a gesture,” he said.

“This is a game China is playing to feel out the space it has around it and also assert some sort of strength to itself.”

Pressure has to be put on China so it goes the “international legal route” and acts like “a major power,” not plays “these old-style games” that undermine its moral standing and reveal its “insecurity” and “uncertainty.”

Petrotimes quoted Pham Viet Dung, deputy chief of PetroVietnam's exploration and search department and chief of its East Sea Office, as saying that two Chinese fishing ships went past the stern of the Binh Minh 02 and severed its cables at around 4.05 a.m. on November 30 when it was about to start seismic exploration in Vinh Bac Bo (the Gulf on Tonkin).

It happened some 43 nautical miles southeast of Con Co Island off Vietnam’s north-central province of Quang Tri, and 20 nautical miles on the Vietnamese side of the Vietnam-China median line in the Gulf of Tonkin, Dung said.

PetroVietnam ordered the broken cables quickly fixed and the Binh Minh 02 resumed “normal” work at around 2 p.m. the next day, he said. It has been carrying out seismic exploration of Vietnam’s continental shelf since May.

According to Dung, many Chinese fishing ships had been operating there before the vessel arrived, and Vietnamese agencies had warned them to leave.

Recently many Chinese ships have illegally entered Vietnamese waters to fish, mainly in the area between Con Co Island and the south of Tri Ton Island in the Hoang Sa Archipelago, he said.

There have been days when there were more than 100 of them, and they “intentionally” keep entering Vietnamese waters despite orders to leave from Vietnamese authorities, he said.

“That Chinese fishing ships enter Vietnamese waters for fishing not only infringes on Vietnam’s sovereignty, but also obstructs the normal activities of Vietnamese fishermen and affects PetroVietnam’s activities at sea.”

PetroVietnam has asked Chinese authorities to educate their citizens about respecting Vietnamese sovereignty, he said.

In May last year Binh Minh 02 had its cables severed by a Chinese marine surveillance vessel some 80 nautical miles off Nha Trang, and 370 nautical miles south of China's Hainan Island.

Two weeks later, the Viking II, a Norwegian ship contracted by a joint venture between PetroVietnam Technical Services Corporation and the French-owned CGG Veritas, was also harassed by Chinese ships when it was operating near the Dai Hung oil field 270 kilometers off the southern province of Vung Tau.

Thanh Nien News - December 04, 2012