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China continues to increase aggression in Vietnam's waters

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Bai 1According to the latest tracking data that US Marine University’s marine expert Ryan Martinson updated on September 30, China's Haiyang Dizhi 08vessel returned to Vietnam's waters for the fourth time.

China’s Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel group increased its aggression by sailing further into the waters of Vietnam, only about 100 nautical miles away from the Vietnamese coast. The areas where the vessel group operates this time were nine oil and gas lots which China illegally put up forbidding in 2012.

These areas were completely within the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of Vietnam starting from the central and the southern coasts of Vietnam, overlapped with oil and gas lots which Vietnam was cooperating to exploit with foreign partners from Russia, India, USA, etc.

In June 2012, when China put up nine oil and gas blocks in this area for international bidding, Vietnam strongly protested against this illegal action of China. On June 27, the representative of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam met with the representative of Chinese Embassy in Hanoi to give a note of protest concerning a bidding announcement of China Oil and Gas Corporation for nine oil and gas blocks inside Vietnam's exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and continental shelf.

Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (Petrovietnam- PVN) held a press conference regarding the bidding announcement of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNOOC) for nine oil and gas blocks inside Vietnam's continental shelf. At the press conference, Mr. Do Van Hau, General Director of PVN gave specific coordinates, confirming that this area was completely within the exclusive 200-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam and this region had no dispute. CNOOC's action was wrong, invalid, contradicting United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea 1982 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 cancel this wrong bidding activity.

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 China National Petroleum Corporation (CNOOC) invited for exploration and exploitation in the South China Sea were all within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone. This action of China also encountered strong criticism at the South China Sea Conference held by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) held on 27th and 28thof June 2012 in Washington, from scholars, researchers and lawyers from many countries including USA, Japan, India, Indonesia, etc.

Understanding that China's bidding announcement for nine blocks of oil and gas in the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam was illegal and blatantly violated international law, especially the United Nations Convention on Law of Sea 1982 (UNCLOS1982),international oil corporations of all countries protested this wrongdoing of China.

For the past 7 years, since China announced the invitation to bid (June 2012), no international oil and gas companies have responded to the invitation. Meanwhile, the oil companies of India, Russia and the United States continue to persist in carrying out oil and gas cooperation contracts with Vietnam despite Chinese threats and pressure because they understand this zone belongs entirely to Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction under UNCLOS 1982.

The illegal operation of Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel group 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 China’s way of "joint exploitation".

China said "the disputed areas are under the bilateral negotiation, but not resolved yet, then put aside the dispute for joint exploitation". It seemingly sounds like goodwill as there are provisions inUNCLOS1982 implying: in case of overlapped waters, the two sides could negotiate and delimit the waters; however, if they couldn’t reach a final delimitation agreement, the two sides can settle for a temporary solution of joint exploitation in the disputed waters. The problem here was that the overlapping area must be formed based on the criteria of UNCLOS 1982, but according to the provisions of UNCLOS 1982, the area where Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel group operated since the beginning of July was completely irrelevant to China, and was under Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction.

Clearly, China's current policy and practice was to turn undisputed area under the sovereignty of another country into disputed area so that at least they did not allow countries to exploit their legitimate resources; China has jumped into a fraction and proposed joint exploitation, not allowing a third country to have an entry in to the area. If not, they follow their own way in which they exploit the area and put pressure on the others. If people are not aware of China’s manner, then it can be considered that they have succeeded in their intentions.

Some opinions said that China allowed Haiyang Dizhi 08 vessel group to operate in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf since the beginning of July in order to "retaliate" Vietnam's operation in block 06-1. It was not completely accurate; it was just the excuse that China used to justify its misconduct. These steps were part of a careful calculation in China's long-term strategy to carry out the South China Sea monopoly scheme and they are now taking new steps. Their recent activity was intended to demonstrate their power in the management of whatever they consider their properties, and to compete for the natural resources of neighboring countries around the South China Sea, especially Vietnam.

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

Diplomatic protest and Spokesperson's statements are necessary procedures in terms of important and indispensable legal protocols. However, for the public to see more clearly the serious level 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, as China increases its aggression and violations, Vietnam should take legal action against China like the Philippines did to get official support from the international community and lay a legal basis for resolving disputes in the South China Sea in the long term.

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