China continues to push forth its encroachment of in Vietnam's waters

1The latest tracking data that Ryan Martinson from the US Naval War College updated on September 30 showed China's Haiyang Dizhi 08 returning to Vietnam's waters for the fourth time.

China’s Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel group increased its violations by sailing further into the waters of Vietnam, only about 100 nm away from the Vietnamese coast. The areas where the vessel group operates this time were the nine oil and gas blocks which China illegally invited for bidding in 2012.

This area is completely within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf measuring from its central and southern coasts, overlapped with oil and gas blocks which Vietnam is oil and gas production contracts with foreign partners from Russia, India, USA, etc.

In June 2012, when China offered nine oil and gas blocks in this area for international bidding, Vietnam strongly protested against this illegal Chinese action. On June 27, the representative of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam met with the representative of Chinese Embassy in Hanoi to give a diplomatic note protesting the bidding offer of China Oil and Gas Corporation (CNOOC) for the nine oil and gas blocks inside Vietnam's 200nm exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam - PVN) held a press conference on CNOOC's bidding offer for the nine oil and gas blocks inside Vietnam's continental shelf. At the press conference, Do Van Hau, PVN Director General gave the specific coordinates, confirming that this area was completely within the e 200nm exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam and this region had no dispute. CNOOC's action was wrong, invalid, contradicting the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea and not following international practices particularly on petroleum activities. This action seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty, jurisdiction, and national interests, complicating the situation and escalating tensions in the South China Sea; CNOOC must immediately stop this wrong bidding attempt.

The international community strongly criticized the illegal bidding announcement for nine blocks of oil and gas in June 2012. Some international scholars asserted that the oil and gas blocks that CNOOC invited for exploration and exploitation in the South China Sea were all within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone. By this, China also faced strong criticism from scholars, researchers and lawyers from many countries including USA, Japan, India, Indonesia, the CSIS South China Sea Conference on 27th and 28th of June 2012 in Washington DC,

Fully aware that China's bidding announcement for the nine blocks of oil and gas in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf was illegal and blatantly violated international law, especially the United Nations Convention on Law of Sea 1982 (UNCLOS 1982), international oil corporations of all countries boycotted China's wrongdoing.

For the past 7 years, since China announced the bidding in June 2012, no international oil and gas companies have responded. Rather, oil companies from India, Russia and the United States continue to carry out oil and gas cooperation contracts with Vietnam despite Chinese threats and pressure because they understand this area belongs entirely to Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction under UNCLOS 1982.

The Haiyang Dizhi 08 group's illegal operation in this area shows a new level in China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. Their goal is to turn this completely non-disputed area into a disputed area and then request a "joint exploitation" in China's way.

In China's view, the parties concerned should set aside disputes for joint exploitation at disputed areas under negotiations. At first sight, it looks as goodwill in conformity with the 1982 UNCLOS as some provisions therein provide that in overlapping waters, the two sides could negotiation and delimitate them. Pending a final solution, they could resort to temporary measures like joint exploitation of the disputed water. The problem here is that the overlapping area must be formed based on the criteria of 1982 UNCLOS but according to its very provisions, the area where Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel group operated since the beginning of July was totally unrelated to China whatsoever, and was under Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction.

Clearly, China's current policy and practice aim to turn undisputed areas under the sovereignty of another country into a disputed one so that at least they did not allow countries to exploit their legitimate resources. That would then allow China to jump in to demand a share by joint exploitation and reject any third country involvement. If not, they would apply their own way by exploiting by themselves to put pressure. If people are not aware of China’s manner, they are sure to succeed.

Some opined that China operated the Haiyang Dizhi 08 group in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf since the beginning of July to "retaliate" Vietnam's operation in block 06-1. It was not completely accurate; it was just the excuse that China made to justify its misconduct. These steps were part of a careful calculated Chinese long-term strategy to carry out the South China Sea monopoly plan and they are now taking new steps. Their recent activity was intended to demonstrate their power in the management of whatever they see belonging to them and to compete for the natural resources of neighboring countries in the South China Sea, especially Vietnam.

On October 3, 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam once more opposed Chinese a intrusion, emphasizing that China's Haiyang Dizhi 08 group had been continuously expanding its operations in Vietnam's waters, and seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction rights; Vietnam demanded China to immediately stop violating and withdraw all of Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel group out of Vietnamese waters.

The diplomatic protest and spokesperson's statements are necessary, important and indispensable legal procedures. However, for the public to see more clearly the serious degree of China’s violation, Vietnam still needs to publicize the coordinates of areas violated by Chinese vessel group and the above-mentioned threatening acts. Only when becoming aware of the seriousness of Chinese violations that international public opinion can raise their voices strongly for Vietnam.

On the other hand, according to international experts, to address China's escalation of intrusion and interference, Vietnam should take legal action against China the way the Philippines did to get formal support from the international community and lay a legal basis for resolving disputes in the South China Sea in the long term.