[ABC Radio] China says it has moved a controversial oil rig from its original position in the South China Sea where its ships are clashing with Vietnamese vessels.
When a Vietnamese fishing boat sank close to the oil platform earlier this week, already heightened tensions were raised still further.
All ten crew were rescued but both countries accuse the other of aggression.
Three weeks ago China started drilling for oil for the first time in an area claimed by both countries, a moved that sparked riots in Vietnam against foreign businesses.
And there’s no sign of a peaceful settlement.
Reporter: Karon Snowdon
Speakers: Qin Gang, China’s foreign ministry spokesman; Le Hai Binh, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman; Le Hong Hiep, Lecturer in International Relations at the National University of Vietnam
SNOWDON: There have been multiple collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels in waters around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in recent weeks.
But the sinking of a fishing boat has upped the stakes.
It’s an area claimed by both nations but the implications are global.
Qin Gang is China’s foreign ministry spokesman.
QIN: Some countries and some people imagine that China will only sit by while its own sovereignty, security and development interests are encroached.
SNOWDON: Vietnam has condemned China’s activities which it says is violating Vietnam’s territorial sovereignty
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Hai Binh.
LE: Vietnam demands that China stop this inhuman activity. China must respect international law, strictly reprimand those involved, refrain from similar acts in the future and compensate Vietnamese fishermen.
SNOWDON: China has moved the oil rig some 25 nautical miles further east, giving no reason.
Le Hong Hiep is a Lecturer in International Relations at the National University of Vietnam.
LE: The Vice Chairman of the Vietnamese National Assembly has called the Chinese attack as an act of terrorism.
SNOWDON: According to local media, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh will visit Washington in coming days at the invitation of Secretary of State John Kerry.
The US has expressed concern about what it calls quote “dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels operating in the area by the Chinese”.
Apart from diplomatic protests Vietnam might try to charge the Chinese civilian boat captain with the crime of attempted murder.
Le Hong Hiep.
LE: If Vietnam really wants to press ahead with this protest Vietnam should also consider legal actions.
SNOWDON: So treat it as a crime committed by the captain of the Chinese fishing boat?
LE: Yes, yes, against the Vietnamese crew.
SNOWDON: Is it possible would you know that Vietnam might be using fishing vessels to get close to China’s activities in this area, this disputed area, using private fishing boats for surveillance for example, is that possible?
LE: Yes, it has been a strategy that Vietnam has been using for some time. It’s also a way for Vietnam to assert, to prove its sovereignty title over the Paracels, which is now controlled by China.
SNOWDON: Is there a danger in that as well that private and civilian boats and crews can be seen in this situation as, to use a poor choice of words, fair game by the other side if it comes to push and shove as it has been indeed already?
LE: Yes, there’s that danger but it should be noted that their crew and their owners also make a living by fishing in these areas, so I think that as the fishing boats now join the forces on both sides in their confrontation over the oil rig I think it is possible that similar accidents or incidents may happen again in the coming months. I think it’s a long story that we will see happen again and again in the future.
SNOWDON: It’s just one dispute China is involved in in the South China Sea having claimed most of it, and further north in the East China Sea.
The Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia all have different views of who should control the territory and the fishing and energy reserves within it.
China’s recent actions are a demonstration it’s not going to back down.
Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
QIN: We hope that Vietnam can refrain from such unjustifiable annoyance and can focus on the big picture. Namely of the relationship between our two countries and of regional stability.
SNOWDON: Vietnam is reportedly considering following the Philippines action in taking a case against China to the Court of Arbitration at The Hague. China won’t be bound by any decision there.