China and Vietnam Point Fingers After Clash in South China Sea

BEIJING — Tensions in the South China Sea escalated sharply on Tuesday as China and Vietnam traded accusations over the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity of a Chinese oil rig parked in disputed waters off Vietnam’s coast.

The sinking further aggravated the worsening diplomatic and economic frictions between China and Vietnam, whose relations have plummeted to the worst point in decades after anti-Chinese riots two weeks ago that killed at least four people and injured more than 100 in Vietnam. China evacuated several thousand workers from Vietnam last week.

In the latest incident, a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat about 17 nautical miles southwest of the oil rig on Monday afternoon, the state-run Vietnamese television network, VTV1, reported. All 10 crew members were rescued, the network said.

But China labeled Vietnam as the aggressor, with the Chinese state-run news agency, Xinhua, saying the Vietnamese fishing boat “capsized when it was interfering with and ramming” a Chinese fishing vessel from Hainan, a province of China. Then China accused Vietnam of sabotage and interfering with the operations of the oil rig, which has become a flash point ever since Vietnam learned that the Chinese had anchored the rig in waters contested by both nations.

A Chinese coast guard vessel, right, saiied near China’s oil drilling rig in disputed waters earlier this month in the South China Sea. CreditHoang Dinh Nam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At sea, armadas from both countries are jousting as the Chinese try to protect the $1 billion oil rig operated by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, known as Cnooc.

Chinese and Vietnamese boats have rammed each other in the area around the oil rig, and the Chinese have acknowledged that they used water cannons to keep the Vietnamese away from the rig, which stands as tall as a 40-story building.

The rig arrived in the waters off the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both China and Vietnam, on May 1, a move that showed China was trying to establish its control of the waters without consulting other claimants.

Chinese social media sites lit up Tuesday with nationalistic postings about the oil rig and Monday’s clash at sea. Users of, the website of Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based satellite network, sent congratulations to the Chinese ship for its action in sinking the Vietnamese vessel.

“Now this is showing some backbone,” said one anonymous user. “Good going, finally seeing some news of concrete action,” said another.

And the depth of anti-Chinese sentiment in Vietnam was on stark display last Friday when a 67-year-old Vietnamese woman set herself on fire and died in Ho Chi Minh City, an echo of the self-immolations by Buddhist monks in South Vietnam in the early 1960s during the Vietnam War.

The woman burned herself at dawn in the center of the city and left behind papers imploring the Vietnamese government to act more aggressively against the Chinese oil rig, city officials said.

A report by Xinhua on Tuesday cited Cnooc as saying that the rig had finished its first phase of operation and would stay in the area until mid-August. The Vietnamese Fisheries Resources Surveillance Department said the rig was moved a few hundred feet north on Sunday, but the significance of the move was not immediately clear.

In a signal of how China, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, now views the South China Sea as a top foreign policy priority, the country’s vice foreign minister said Tuesday that the sea was central to China’s very existence as a global economic power.

“Being the lifeline for China, the South China Sea is far more important to China than to other countries,” the minister, Liu Zhenmin, told reporters in Beijing.

Source: NYT

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