Friday, July 18, 2014

Chinese Oil Rig Near Vietnam to Be Moved


BEIJING — A Chinese energy company announced Wednesday that a giant oil rig that was deployed in disputed waters off the coast of Vietnam two months ago had completed its exploration work and would be moved.

The China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned company, said the billion-dollar rig, known as HD 981, would be relocated to an area around the Qiongdongnan basin, closer to Hainan Island, a southern province of China, and apparently in undisputed waters.

The arrival of the rig off the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in early May worsened China’s relations with Vietnam, a neighbor, and became a sticking point in the increasing tensions between Beijing and Washington.

The announcement, released by Xinhua, the state-run news agency, came a day after President Obama called President Xi Jinping to talk about what the White House called the “important progress” at meetings between the two countries in Beijing last week, although they did not settle any differences.

There was no indication that the movement of the rig away from the disputed waters with Vietnam was related to the telephone call.

When the rig was first deployed close to the Paracels, claimed by both China and Vietnam, Chinese officials said it would remain in place until mid-August, the normal start of the typhoon season.

There was no explanation why the rig was leaving earlier, but the statement by the China National Petroleum Corporation said the operation was ending as planned. During exploration, the rig found “signs of oil and gas,” and the company planned to assess the data and decide on its next steps, the statement said.

The arrival of the rig — more than 40 stories tall and the size of a football field — prompted daily clashes at sea between Chinese vessels sent to protect it and Vietnamese boats that tried to pierce the perimeter of about 12 miles the Chinese had established around it.

Chinese Coast Guard vessels rammed smaller Vietnamese boats, and the Chinese used powerful water cannons to keep the Vietnamese vessels at bay.

Both sides also stationed naval vessels in the distance, and Chinese fighter jets flew over the rig from time to time. In Vietnam, anti-Chinese protests turned violent as two Chinese workers were killed and factories run by Taiwanese and South Korean companies were destroyed.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the movement of the rig should not be seen as a retreat, emphasizing the position that the Paracel Islands were China’s territory and that the rig was operating in “undisputed coastal waters” of the islands.

China, though, could be moving the oil rig to ease relations with Vietnam, said Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It could be a face-saving way to end the over two-month-long standoff with Vietnam,” she said.

The Voice of Vietnam, a state-run news agency, said Wednesday that Vietnamese law enforcement officials saw the rig moving away from its position on Tuesday evening. The agency added that the move may have occurred because of the approaching Typhoon Rammasun.

But an influential Vietnamese military official, Maj. Gen. Le Ma Luong, said the Chinese were backing down and were moving the rig because of the “strong reactions”of Vietnam.  In an interview in PetroTimes, a Vietnamese state-run news outlet, the general said the typhoon was “just an excuse.”

Bree Feng contributed research.

Shadow of Brutal ’79 War Darkens Vietnam’s View of China Relations


LANG SON, Vietnam — She was 14 when Chinese artillery fire echoed across the hills around her home in northern Vietnam, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers swarmed across the border. She remembers sprinting with her parents through the peach trees, her waist-length hair flying, as they fled the invaders. They ran straight into the enemy.

Her mother was shot and killed in front of her; minutes later, her father was wounded. “I was horrified. I didn’t think I would survive. The bullets were flying all around. I could hear them and smell the gunfire,” said Ha Thi Hien, now 49, fluttering her hands so they grazed her head to show how close the bullets came on the first day of the short, brutal war.

The conflict between China and Vietnam in 1979 lasted less than a month. But the fighting was so ferocious that its legacy permeates the current sour relations between the two Communist countries now at odds over hotly contested waters in the South China Sea.

Both sides declared victory then, though neither side prevailed, and both armies suffered horrendous losses.

If a war erupted over territorial rights and the recent positioning of a Chinese oil rig off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea, China, with its increasingly modernized navy, would likely win, military experts say. So in a situation some liken to that of Mexico astride the United States, Vietnam must exercise the art of living alongside a powerful nation, a skill it has practiced over several thousand years of intermittent occupation and more than a dozen wars with China.

But with China, far richer, militarily stronger and more ambitious than at any time the two countries have faced each other in the modern era, how far to needle Beijing, when to pull back, and how to factor in the United States are becoming trickier.

During the current tensions, the anti-Chinese sentiments of the Vietnamese people seem to have run ahead of the country’s ruling Politburo.

“People in Vietnam want to be outside China’s grip,” said Pham Xuan Nguyen, chairman of the Hanoi Literature Association, who protested against the oil rig outside the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi. “But the Vietnamese people are wondering what is the strategy of the government, and wondering if the government is really against China or compromising.”

In 2012, the United States secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta, visited Cam Ranh Bay, the site of a major American base during the Vietnam War, but so far the Vietnamese military, still mindful of that war and years of antagonistic relations after it ended in 1975, has kept its distance.

Part of the aloofness is the result of a United States executive order that prohibits the sale of American weapons to Vietnam, a vestige of the Vietnam War. But Washington is showing increasing interest in lifting the ban, and the expected new United States ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, who is awaiting confirmation from the Senate, said in testimony last month that easing the embargo should be considered.

For the moment, Vietnam buys weapons mainly from Russia, Israel and India. It has taken delivery of two Kilo-class submarines from Russia, and has ordered four more. Japan has pledged to provide coast guard vessels. In a move intended to encourage Vietnam to accept more from Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry announced $18 million in nonlethal aid for Vietnam’s maritime security during a visit in December.

Vietnam does not expect, or want, intervention by the United States, said Dang Dinh Quy, president of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. “We don’t expect help from anyone,” he said. “We are confident we can do it ourselves. We will keep to current strategies of trying to prevent a clash, and if it happens we will try to deal with it. We welcome all users of the South China Sea as long as they are conducive to preserving peace, stability and a legal order in the region.”

The shadow of the 1979 war, ordered by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to punish Vietnam for its invasion of Cambodia, endures in places along the border. The memories are strong not only because of the death toll but also because the Chinese pummeled towns and villages as they withdrew, destroying schools and hospitals, in what the Chinese military later called a “goodbye kiss.”

Lang Son has since been rebuilt, and modest high-rises emblazoned with neon give it the feel of a prosperous trading post. But people here still remember a river full of bodies, both Vietnamese and Chinese, and how long it took for the terrible smell to go away. The combined death toll has been estimated at least 50,000 troops, along with 10,000 Vietnamese civilians.

The Chinese soldiers were instructed to be merciless and resorted to a “frenzy of extreme emotions,” according to a former Chinese intelligence officer, Xu Meihong, who immigrated to the United States and whose account appears in a history of the war, “Chinese Military Strategy in the Third Indochina War” by Edward C. O’Dowd.

The Chinese decision to destroy Lang Son left a deep impression on a high school student named Luong Van Lang, who now works as a security guard.

“My heart was full of hatred, all the city was destroyed, everything was rubble,” he said. Two years after the Chinese left, he was selected for sniper training in a local defense militia to counter Chinese hit-and-run attacks that continued for most of the 1980s.

“I would get up at 2 a.m., positioned on a high ridge, and I could see the Chinese digging tunnels,” he said. “Their hill was lower than ours, and sometimes they would move higher. We would wait for that moment when they moved and shoot at them.” He killed six Chinese in 10 days, he said proudly.

For his bravery and accuracy, Mr. Lang won three medals that he keeps in a satin-lined box.

After China and Vietnam normalized relations in 1991, the government erased all official commemorations of the 1979 fighting, a contrast to the copious memorials to Vietnam’s wars against the French and the Americans in which the Chinese gave vital assistance.

Relations between the fraternal Communist parties thawed, cross-border business flourished and memories were eclipsed.

Those memories resurfaced two months ago with the arrival of the Chinese oil rig in waters claimed by both countries off Vietnam’s coast. There were daily skirmishes between Chinese and Vietnamese coast guard vessels, which led to anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam that left four Chinese citizens dead and damaged foreign-owned factories.

Ms. Hien, who now runs a guesthouse and welcomes Chinese clients, says she still lives with the memories of her teenage terror. After her mother was killed, soldiers found an older woman to look after her, and then told the two lost souls to shelter with others in a limestone cave.

“But several hundred people had been killed in there,” she said. “I saw a woman with her legs cut off, lying on the ground. You could tell from her eyes she was still alive and wanted help, but there was nothing we could do. I will never forget it.”

In High Seas, China Moves Unilaterally


BEIJING — It is the pride of China’s state-run oil industry and the nation’s first deepwater drilling rig, a vessel as big as a football field and as tall as a 40-story building, with a $1 billion price tag. Last week, it crawled through the South China Sea, pulled by heavy-duty tugs, and parked in one of the most sensitive spots possible, about 17 miles off a speck of an island claimed by both China and Vietnam.

The Vietnamese, at times embraced in brotherly Communist Party fealty by China, were taken by surprise. Hanoi assumed the rig, known as HD-981, was just passing through, people close to the government said.

At least twice in recent years, China has sought to explore these waters and backed down after protests by Vietnam. Just six months ago, during a visit of the Chinese prime minister to Hanoi, the two sides announced that they would try to find ways to jointly develop oil and gas fields.

That good will evaporated this week when Beijing made clear the drilling rig was staying put. It set off four days of confrontation, with dozens of Chinese and Vietnamese naval vessels ramming one another and China using water cannons in a standoff that threatens to push a region known for its economic development toward military conflict.

China has not been shy in recent years about making broad claims to control much of the South China Sea. But by installing an expensive drilling rig in disputed waters, it now appears more willing to act first and invite diplomacy later. It is in effect creating “facts” in the water that its regional rivals, and ultimately the United States, must either accept or fight.

China signaled it would take unilateral steps last year, when it declared an air defense zone over parts of the East China Sea that includes islands at the center of a long-smoldering dispute with Japan. In the battle of wills with Vietnam, China has unleashed a new and potentially powerful tool in its battle for territory: its oil industry and the rigs a state oil-company official once called “our mobile national territory.”

The deployment of the rig is a possible game changer in China’s determination to dominate the South China Sea, as oil exploration requires substantial investment and often protection, which in China’s case would be provided by its ships, including its navy.

“China has been taking incremental steps, escalating and increasing its presence in the South China Sea, but this is crossing a threshold,” said Holly Morrow, a fellow in the Geopolitics of Energy program at Harvard who served on the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration.

It is unclear if China’s gambit will end up the way its leaders hope. Two years ago, China was able to nudge aside the Philippines from a disputed reef, without a fight, by simply refusing to abide by an American-brokered agreement. The Philippines retreated, as promised. The Chinese did not, and have controlled the reef, the Scarborough Shoal, and its rich fishery ever since.

Vietnam has proved to be a tougher adversary, sending out its own ships to meet the Chinese flotilla and, according to Chinese government reports, using them to ram Chinese ships as many as 171 times in four days.

A prominent Vietnamese political analyst, Nguyen Quang A, summarized the standoff this way: “Invasion is in their blood, and resistance is in our blood.”

The timing of the move was perceived by some in the region as a test not only of the ability of Southeast Asian nations to stand up to their far more powerful northern neighbor, but also of President Obama’s resolve less than a month after he promised to support American allies in Asia as they deal with a stronger China.

China’s action was almost certainly a long-term plan — the deployment of a deep water drilling rig takes months of preparation. But a senior Asian diplomat with deep ties in the region said some officials were left with the impression after Mr. Obama’s visit that the United States was eager to avoid direct confrontation with China over its claims in the South China Sea.

At a news conference in Manila, Mr. Obama sidestepped a question about whether Washington would defend the Philippines if a territorial dispute with China became an armed conflict, instead saying “we don’t think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes.” A few days earlier he had made a stronger statement of support for Japan in its maritime disputes with China.

On Friday, Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said the United States had been clear that it opposed unilateral steps or the threat of force by the Chinese and that it was strengthening military ties with its allies, including the Philippines. The United States does not have a defense treaty with Vietnam.

“We have reaffirmed our support for our mutual defense treaties with allies in the region, and have supported the efforts of the Philippines to pursue international arbitration to resolve maritime disputes,” Mr. Rhodes said

Few believe that energy discoveries were the primary reason for the arrival of rig HD-981, which is owned by China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or Cnooc, the state-run energy giant.

For decades, geologists and major energy companies have debated whether the seabed of the South China Sea holds commercially viable deposits of oil and gas. Many are skeptical, especially regarding the area around the Paracel Islands, which the rig expects to explore and which a 2013 assessment by the United States Energy Information Administration deemed to be especially unlikely to hold much oil or gas.

“Cnooc is a business but also a political actor,” said Ms. Morrow of Harvard. “It’s never about energy completely, it’s about sovereignty.”

Still, the company’s enthusiasm for drilling in the area may have been bolstered by three-dimensional seismic tests conducted last May and June, according to a report in the state run news agency, Xinhua.

Previously, only two-dimensional seismic surveys, which are less reliable, had been conducted, said Peter Dutton, professor and director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the United States Naval War College in Rhode Island.

Another incentive for drilling is that the site is close to two exploratory areas where Exxon Mobil discovered substantial oil and gas reserves in 2011 and 2012, energy lawyers in Hong Kong said.

“China’s location of the drilling rig in this block cannot be attributed solely to provocation,” Mr. Dutton said.

In Vietnam, the Chinese move is challenging the government’s delicate balancing act between strong anti-China sentiment and not wanting to get too close to the United States.

Hanoi maintains a military hotline with the People’s Liberation Army, while resisting Washington’s invitations to participate in joint military exercises and overtures for access to Cam Ranh Bay, a deepwater base on the South China Sea.

Still, Vietnam can ill afford to alienate China; it is increasingly economically dependent on China for cheap parts that are used in its growing manufacturing sector, and for hosting poor agrarian workers in southern China.

The Cnooc oil rig and other acts of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea over the past few months will now take center stage, according to Ernest Z. Bower and Gregory B. Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who posted an article on its website.

“There is no telling who will blink first,” they wrote.


Jane Perlez reported from Beijing, and Keith Bradsher from Hong Kong. Reporting was contributed by Mike Ives from Hanoi, Vietnam, and Michael D. Shear from Washington. Bree Feng contributed research from Beijing.


Vietnam Law on Contested Islands Draws China’s Ire

Published: June 21, 2012


BEIJING — In a show of its resolve in a dispute over the South China Sea, China sharply criticized Vietnam on Thursday for passing a law that claims sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, saying they are the “indisputable” territory of China.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing summoned the Vietnamese ambassador, Nguyen Van Tho, to strongly protest the new law, said a spokesman, Hong Lei.

“Vietnam’s Maritime Law, declaring sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, is a serious violation of China’s territorial sovereignty,” a ministry statement said. “China expresses its resolute and vehement opposition.”

The dispute between China and Vietnam over the law, which had been in the works for years, is the latest example of Beijing’s determination to tell its Asian neighbors that the South China Sea is China’s preserve.

The Chinese statement comes two weeks before a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which will be attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The South China Sea is expected to be high on the agenda.

To reinforce its claims, China also announced that it had raised the level of governance on three island groups in the sea: the Spratlys, the Paracels and the Macclesfield Bank, known in Chinese as the Nansha, Xisha and Zhongsha Islands.

The Chinese State Council issued a statement placing the three groups of islands and their surrounding waters under the city of Sansha as a prefectural-level administration rather than a lower county-level one.

Xinhua, the state-run news agency, quoted a Ministry of Civil Affairs spokesman as saying that the new arrangement would “further strengthen China’s administration and development” of the three island groups.

China and South Vietnam fought over the Paracels and the Spratlys in 1974, and a unified Vietnam fought briefly with China in 1988 over the islands. China controls the Paracels and reefs and shoals within the Spratlys, according to the International Crisis Group, a research organization. The Macclesfield Bank comprises a sunken atoll and reefs. In another South China Sea squabble, President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines said Wednesday that he would order Philippine government vessels back to the Scarborough Shoal if China did not remove its ships from the disputed area, as had been promised.

A two-month standoff between China and the Philippines at the shoal appeared to have been defused last weekend, when a typhoon forced Philippine fishing boats and a navy vessel to leave. China pledged to remove its vessels, too, the Philippines said at the time.

But this week, Philippines officials said half a dozen Chinese government vessels and fishing boats remained at the shoal. The exact position of the Chinese boats — whether they were inside the shoal’s large lagoon, or outside the lagoon in more open waters — was not clear.

The Philippine government spokesman, Raul Hernandez, said a verbal agreement between China and the Philippines applied only to the withdrawal of vessels from the sheltered lagoon, where Chinese fishermen were poaching rare corals, fish and sharks.

“The two sides are still talking about the vessels outside the lagoon,” he told a Philippine radio station.

The Asean ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh will almost certainly come under competing pressures from China and the United States over the tensions in the South China Sea.

Last month, at an Asean session in Phnom Penh in preparation for the ministerial meeting, Cambodia, which holds the chairmanship of the regional bloc and is a close ally of China, refused to allow the issuing of a statement on the need for a peaceful resolution of the disputes.

The United States is expected to urge the association to strengthen an existing code of conduct on the South China Sea, probably over China’s objections.

Bree Feng contributed research

Monday, July 7, 2014

Madam Nguyen Thi Binh publishes open letter on East Sea
Former Vice President Nguyen Thi Binh has sent a letter on China’s violations of the Vietnamese sovereignty to her friends around the world, affirming the Vietnamese people’s desire for peace for development. VietNamNet Bridge would like to introduce her letter to our readers.

nguyen thi binh, open letter, east sea
Vice President Nguyen Thi Binh. Photo: Phong Doanh

Dear friends,
Many foreign friends have asked me almost the same questions: What’s happening in Vietnam? After so many years of war with so much sacrifice and suffering, are the Vietnamese having to fight again? Why could China encroach upon Vietnam’s sovereignty – the China that had given active support to Vietnam’s struggle against American aggression? The China that is a “socialist country” and led by a Communist Party? How come?   
Such are also questions we – the Vietnamese - have posed to ourselves.
You supported us during our resistance to the French then Americans, throughout thirty long years. You certainly understand the high price we have had to pay for peace, independence and national reunification: More than three million deaths, a devastated land and tremendous consequences, including hundreds of thousands of incurable Agent Orange victims.
In 1974, while the war was still going on, China occupied by armed force the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago belonging to Vietnam. The war ended, but was followed by twenty years of American embargo. And, after years of provocations along our Northern frontier, China sent over 200,000 soldiers across the border to “teach Vietnam a lesson”. What’s the lesson about, no one could know. But, how could one explain why a big “socialist country” had attacked a small one just coming out of war?  Yet, this was a reality.
In 1988, China again occupied by armed force several islands of Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago.
Today, the Vietnamese are striving to reconstruct and develop the country step by step in the face of countless difficulties and challenges. For all our efforts, we remain a very poor country. We, therefore, are doing our utmost for an environment of peace and stability, ready to cooperate with other countries for the sake of development.
Even with regard to the USA, which had caused us so much suffering, our stand has been to shelve the past and look forward into the future. Regarding China, a big neighbor, despite the ups and downs in the history of bilateral relations and disputes that still need to be solved between the two countries, we have been thinking much about the clos    e bonds uniting the two nations during the national liberation struggle. We therefore always wish for good relations with China and settlement of all disputes by peaceful means on the basis of mutual trust. Such has been our behavior in practice, with modesty and self-restraint.
But, as you have known, on May 2, China placed a giant oil drilling rig deep in Vietnam’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone, coupled with over 100 escort vessels including military ships and aircraft.
This constitutes an extremely serious act, an encroachment upon Vietnam’s sovereignty and a violation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. On the Vietnamese side, we have made use of diplomatic and other channels, while law enforcement ships have asked the Chinese side to respect Vietnam’s sovereignty and pull out the rig. So far, China has failed to respond to Vietnam’s goodwill, and acted even more aggressively instead.
It’s really heart-rending to look at scenes of Chinese vessels, numerous and big, ramming on smaller ships of the Vietnamese Fisheries Control and Maritime Police. What could happen next?
The mass media across the world have expressed profound concern over the Chinese moves, which jeopardize safety and freedom of maritime navigation and threaten regional peace and security.
The Chinese side has thrown the blame on Vietnam’s “provocations”. Whoever could believe that Vietnam had provoked China, a Vietnam whose population is merely one-fifteenth and GDP one-fiftieth or one-sixtieth of China’s, and which is still wrestling to free itself from poverty and underdevelopment?
Chinese leaders have said that China opted for a “peaceful rise”, and that in the blood of the Chinese nation there was no “gene for aggression and hegemony”. Then, how would China explain its “U-shaped Line” claim covering most of the East Sea (South China Sea) regardless of international law, notably the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and world-wide opposition?
Independence, freedom and sovereignty are sacred to every nation. The Vietnamese people will struggle till the end to defend these objectives. At the same time, we do need peace and friendship to enable development, to ensure for Vietnamese, especially women and children, an ever better life.
We eagerly need peace, a just, real and durable peace for the Vietnamese and all other nations in the region and the world. We eagerly need friendship with China and other countries, but a real and sincere friendship based on mutual respect. In your position, you also think the same, I believe.
So, we wish to have your support, now as in the past. For the immediate future, to ask that China pull the rig out of Vietnam’s continental shelf and respect Vietnam’s sovereignty in keeping with international law.
We are convinced that, with solidarity and strong action, justice and the law will prevail.
May I extend to you my warm greetings, and my profound thanks for what you have done and will do for Vietnam.
Nguyen Thi Binh