China hits back in Vietnam sea spat

Filed on June 10, 2011

BEIJING - China has warned Vietnam to halt all activities that it says violate its sovereignty in disputed waters in the South China Sea after an incident involving vessels from the two communist nations.

Hanoi protested to Beijing after what it described as a “premeditated” attack on an exploration ship in its waters.

Vietnam said a Chinese fishing boat “intentionally rammed” the exploration cables of a vessel, chartered by state energy giant PetroVietnam, conducting a seismic survey inside its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone Thursday.

But, apparently referring to the same incident, China gave a different version of events in a report carried by official news agency Xinhua early Friday.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China had indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha islands, known as the Spratly islands outside China, and surrounding waters, according to Xinhua.

He said Chinese fishing boats were chased away by armed Vietnamese ships on Thursday morning. During the incident the fishing net of one of the Chinese boats became tangled with the cables of a Vietnamese oil exploring vessel, which China says was operating illegally in the area.

According to Beijing’s account, the oil exploration boat continued dragging the Chinese vessel for more than an hour.

The Chinese fishermen were forced to cut off the fishing net before the two vessels lost contact, Xinhua said.

“This has seriously endangered the safety of the Chinese fishermen,” Hong said.

Hong said oil exploration in the area and the actions of the Vietnamese vessels had grossly infringed Chinese sovereignty, calling on Hanoi to stop all such action.

Relations between Beijing and Hanoi have grown increasingly tense in recent days over a long-standing dispute related to the sovereignty of the Paracel archipelago and the Spratly islands.

The Paracel archipelago and the more southerly Spratlys in the South China Sea are both potentially resource-rich outcrops that straddle strategic shipping lanes.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim all or part of the territories in question, and renewed tensions have drawn a warning from the United States that the disputes could lead to armed conflict.

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