A Vietnamese naval soldier stands quard at Thuyen Chai
island in the Spratly archipelago. REUTERS/Quang Le/Files
Vietnam says a Chinese vessel intentionally rammed two of
its ships in a part of the disputed South China Sea where
Beijing has deployed a giant oil rig, sending tensions
spiralling in the region.
The Foreign Ministry in Hanoi said the collisions took place
on Sunday and caused considerable damage to the Vietnamese
ships. Six people suffered minor injuries, it said.
"On May 4, Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese
Sea Guard vessels," said Tran Duy Hai, a Foreign Ministry
official and deputy head of Vietnam's national border
"Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate
Vietnamese vessels. Water cannon was used," he told a news
conference in Hanoi. Six other ships were also hit, other
officials said, but not as badly.
Dozens of navy and coastguard vessels from both countries are
in the area where China has deployed the giant rig,
Vietnamese officials have said.
"No shots have been fired yet," said a Vietnamese navy
official, who could not be identified because he was not
authorised to speak to media. "Vietnam won't fire unless
China fires first."
The tensions between the two Communist nations come as both
are trying to put aside border disputes and the memories of a
brief border war in 1979. Vietnam is usually careful about
public comments against China, with which it had bilateral
trade surpassing $50 billion in 2013.
However, Hanoi has strongly condemned the operation of the
drilling rig in what it says are its waters in the South
China Sea, and told China's state-run oil company CNOOC to
The United States has also criticised the move.
The row comes days after US President Barack Obama visited
Asia to underline his commitment to allies there, including
Japan and the Philippines, both locked in territorial
disputes with China.
Obama, promoting a strategic "pivot" towards the Asia-Pacific
region, also visited South Korea and Malaysia, but not China.
The United States is "strongly concerned about dangerous
conduct and intimidation by vessels in the disputed area,"
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said In
Washington on Wednesday.
Psaki reiterated the U.S. view that China's deployment of an
oil rig was "provocative and unhelpful" to regional security.
"We call on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and
appropriate manner, exercise restraint, and address competing
sovereignty claims peacefully, diplomatically, and in
accordance with international law," she told a regular news
China has not yet responded to the Vietnamese allegations of
ramming, but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said
earlier on Wednesday that the deployment of the rig had
nothing to do with the United States, or Vietnam.
"The United States has no right to complain about China's
activities within the scope of its own sovereignty," she
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting
rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia
TENSIONS WITH PHILIPPINES
Tensions are also brewing in another part of the South China
Sea where Beijing has demanded the Philippines release a
Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized on Tuesday.
Chief Superintendent Noel Vargas of the Philippine National
Police Maritime Group said a maritime police patrol
apprehended a Chinese fishing boat around 7 a.m. on Tuesday
off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands.
The boat has 11 crew and police found about 350 turtles in
the vessel, some of which were already dead, a police report
said, adding that a Philippine boat with crew was also
seized, and found to have 70 turtles on board. Several
species of sea turtles are protected under Philippine law.
Maritime police are now towing the boats to Puerto Princesa
town on the island of Palawan where appropriate charges will
be filed against them, Vargas said.
China said the Philippines had to release the boat and the
"China's Foreign Ministry and China's ambassador to the
Philippines have made representations to the Philippine side,
demanding that it provide a rational explanation and
immediately release the people and the vessel," ministry
spokeswoman Hua said.
"We once again warn the Philippines not to take any
provocative actions," she said, adding that China had
"indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly Islands.
The State Department's Psaki also said the United States had
seen reports about the boat seizures and added: "We urge both
sides to work together diplomatically."
She said Washington was concerned that the vessels appeared
to be engaged in catching endangered sea turtles.
There are frequent tensions in the South China Sea between
China and the other claimant nations, particularly Vietnam
and the Philippines, both of which say Beijing has harassed
their ships in the waters there.
While there are frequent stand-offs between fishermen and the
various claimant states in the South China Sea, the actual
detention of Chinese fishermen or the seizure of a boat is
NOT COMMERCIALLY DRIVEN
An oil industry official in China said the deployment of the
rig owned by China's CNOOC oil company to waters near Vietnam
appeared to be a political decision rather than a commercial
"This reflected the will of the central government and is
also related to the U.S. strategy on Asia," said the
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"It is not commercially driven. It is also not like CNOOC has
set a big exploration blueprint for the region."
However, Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for
South China Sea Studies, a government think tank in the
southern province of Hainan, said China was unlikely to pay
much heed to Vietnamese concerns.
"If we stop our work there as soon as Vietnam shouts, China
will not be able to achieve anything in the South China Sea,"
"We have lost a precious opportunity to drill for oil and gas
in the Spratlys. Also this time we are drilling in Xisha
(Paracel Islands), not Nansha (Spratlys), there is no
territorial dispute there. I think China will keep moving
ahead with its plan (in Xisha), no matter what Vietnam says
Tran Duy Hai, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry official,
raised the possibility of Hanoi taking the dispute to
"We cannot exclude any measures, including international
legal action, as long as it is peaceful.
"We are a peace-loving nation that has experienced many
wars," he said. "If this situation goes too far, we will use
all measures in line with international law to protect our
territory. We have limitations, but we will stand up to any
The Philippines has already taken its dispute with China to
an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague.