Vietnam protests against Chinese oil exploration

Mar 15, 1997 01:00 AM

Vietnam has accused China of violating its waters in the South China Sea and demanded the immediate removal of a Chinese exploratory oil rig. Vietnam has repeatedly charged Beijing with incursions into waters it claims in the contested South China Sea, where potential oil fields have raised the stakes for control of the region. "These acts by the Chinese side are serious violations of Vietnam's special economic zone and its continental shelf," said a Foreign Ministry statement issued in Hanoi. The government summoned China's ambassador in Hanoi earlier this month to formally protest the presence of Chinese ships and the oil rig in what Hanoi considers its continental shelf.
Vietnam has pre-emptively designated parts of the its contested coastal water as special economic zones in case they produce oil reserves. Hanoi called for the removal of the Chinese rig and ships. The Vietnamese government said a Chinese oil rig has been operating in waters off the coast of the central city of Hue since the beginning of the month.
The disputed waters lie between the Vietnamese coast and China's Hainan island. Border and territorial water rights have been an ongoing source of tension between China and Vietnam. They fought a brief border war in 1979.
China last year lashed out at Vietnam for licensing US oil company Conoco Inc., to explore waters further south claimed by China. Beijing awarded exploration rights for the same region to another US company, Denver-based Crestone Energy Corp.
Hanoi and Beijing have been working toward negotiated settlements on these issues, but China's new exploratory manoeuvres is a step in the wrong direction, the government statement said.

The jostling over control of the waters is part of larger dispute involving six East Asian countries, who claim oil rights, shipping lanes and ownership of tiny islands and atolls with potential strategic importance. All or part of the chain of Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is claimed by Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

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