China resolute on maritime rights

By Zhang Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/22 22:28:39

Sea tensions with the Philippines ease but Vietnam breaks consensus

Recent oil exploration and fishing activities in the South China Sea by China's neighboring countries, including Vietnam, have destabilized the area and undermined China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, Chinese experts said Thursday.

Vietnam recently decided to resume oil exploration in the disputed waters, after it signed a multi-billion-dollar gas deal with Exxon Mobil in January, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Vietnamese state-owned oil company PetroVietnam and Exxon Mobil are expected to extract gas for electricity by 2023, and the drill site is located in the Xisha Islands, the report said.

"Vietnam unilaterally broke its consensus with China, which involved shelving disputes and joint development, and its move is aimed at strengthening its territorial claims over the area," Liu Feng, a Hainan-based expert on the South China Sea, told the Global Times.

"Vietnam's illegal actions undermined the stability of the South China Sea, and violated China's sovereignty and maritime rights," Liu noted.

Other countries such as the Philippines are also eyeing the economic benefits in the area. In a speech in May, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that Manila intended to drill for oil in the South China Sea, Reuters reported.

These countries are emboldened by US support, as American energy companies and the US government are trying to hype the South China Sea disputes by getting involved in the issue, said Wang Haipeng, an expert on maritime and border studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

But bringing in companies from third-party countries would impede the settlement of disputes in the South China Sea, and will have an adverse effect on joint explorations, Liu said.

The unilateral development of oil and gas in the South China Sea by neighboring countries have surfaced from time to time for decades. Vietnam illegally licensed out 120 oil blocks in the waters of Nansha and Xisha islands in 1994. Malaysia seized Yuya Shoal and Boji Reef in the Nansha Islands in 1999, and began exploiting oil and gas and fishing resources in surrounding waters, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

However, tensions in the South China Sea have eased after Duterte took office in 2016, and Filipino fishermen resumed their activities in the Huangyan Island area in October 2016.

"The de-escalation of tensions in the South China Sea will not be affected by the illegal activities of some countries, as countries like Vietnam are aware that peace and stability in the South China Sea far outweigh the economic interests they are pursuing," Wang said, adding that the consensus reached by China and ASEAN countries provides a political guarantee for the area's stability.

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