HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese and Chinese ships were involved in a week-long stalemate near an offshore oil block in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, which fall into Vietnam's exclusive economic zone, two Washington-based think tanks said Wednesday.
FILE PHOTO: Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (2nd L, front) and Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh (2nd R, front) are talking to Coast Guard seamen in Hanoi during their visit to Coast Guard Command , Vietnam, July 11, 2019. Thong Nhat / VNA on REUTERS.
China's U-shaped "Nine-Stroke Line" marks a vast stretch of the South China Sea that claims it, including large parts of the Vietnamese continental shelf, where it has awarded oil concessions.
Haiyang Dizhi 8, a vessel operated by China Geological Survey, conducted a 12-day survey of waters near the disputed Spratly Islands on Monday, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS)
One of the investigated oil blocks was licensed by Vietnam to the Spanish energy company Repsol ( REP.MC ), which was forced to cease operations in Vietnamese waters last year and in 2017 the pressure of China.
When the Haiyang Dizhi 8 surveyed her, she was followed by nine Vietnamese ships. The Chinese ship was escorted by three ships of the Chinese Coast Guard, according to Winward Maritime, who were assembled by C4ADS.
In another incident a few days ago, the ship of the Chinese Coast Guard Haijing 35111 maneuvered in a CSIS "threatening" manner against Vietnamese ships operating a Japanese oil rig, the Hakuryu-5, owned by a Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft ( ROSN.MM ) was leased in the Vietnamese Block 06.1, 370 km southeast of Vietnam.
This block is within the range outlined by China's "Nine-Stroke Line". In a series of strokes on Chinese maps, the line is not continuous, making China's claims often ambiguous.
Reuters exclusively reported last year that Rosneft Vietnam BV, a unit of Rosneft, was concerned that drilling in Block 06.1 would upset China.
"On July 2, the ships left the Hakuryu-5 when the 35111 passed between them at high speed and was within 100 yards of each ship and less than half a mile from the derrick," CSIS said in his Report.
It was not clear on Wednesday whether Chinese ships were still challenging Rosneft rigging.
In 2014, tension between Vietnam and China rose to its highest level in decades, when a Chinese oil rig completed drilling in Vietnamese waters. The incident triggered boat raids on both sides and riots against China in Vietnam.
"READY FOR THE FIGHT"
In response to reports of this month's stalemate, first published on social media, Chinese Foreign Minister Geng Shuang said on July 12 that China's position on the South China Sea was " clear and stable "".
"China resolutely secures its sovereignty in the South China Sea and maritime rights, while maintaining control over disputes with relevant countries over negotiations and consultations," said Geng, without going into detail.
On Tuesday, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry issued a statement in response to unspecified "recent developments" in the South China Sea.
"Without Vietnam's permission, all acts carried out by foreign parties in Vietnamese waters have no legal effect and are interfering with Vietnamese waters and violations of international law," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang.
None of the statements confirmed or elaborated the distance.
Neither Rosneft nor Repsol responded immediately to an emailed request from Reuters for a comment.
In a recent statement, China's Foreign Minister Geng admitted on Wednesday that there had been an incident with Vietnam.
"We hope that the Vietnamese side can seriously respect China's sovereignty, rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters and can not take any action that could complicate the situation," Geng told a regular press conference.
On July 11, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited Hanoi's Vietnam Coast Guard Headquarters as China conducted its block investigation.
The state media did not mention the incident, but showed that Phuc talked to seamen on board via video.
Phuc told sailors to be "alert and ready to fight" and to be aware of "unpredictable developments," the Vietnamese Coast Guard said in a statement on its website.
The same day, Vietnam's National Assembly leader Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan met her Chinese counterpart Li Zhanshu in Beijing, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.
The two officials agreed to "work together to ensure peace and stability at sea," Xinhua said.
coverage by James Pearson and Khanh Vu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel