15 May 2014
China’s positioning of a state-owned oil rig in waters near the disputed Paracel Islands has led to increased tensions between China and Vietnam. While this has been seen as another demonstration of Chinese assertiveness, a closer look may tell a different story.
Tensions between China and Vietnam over sovereignty issues in the South China Sea flared up again on 2 May 2014 when China positioned an oil rig in waters off the disputed Paracel Islands. Vietnam protested this action and sent vessels to disrupt the rig’s operations. China responded by sending more ships to protect the rig. Inevitably with the numbers of opposing vessels in the area, a violent clash occurred on 7 May injuring some Vietnamese personnel and damage to some vessels.
Vietnam has launched a strong diplomatic and public relations campaign to support its position. It appears to be winning the public relations battle with much global commentary supporting its claim that the rig is illegal and painting the situation as yet another example of China’s assertiveness. However, a closer look at the situation suggests that China may be within its rights with the rig. Undoubtedly, however, it could have handled the situation more diplomatically rather than acting unilaterally in a way that inevitably would lead to increased tension.
… Sam Bateman is a Senior Fellow in the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is a former Australian naval commodore with research interests in regimes for good order at sea.
IDSS / RSIS / Online
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