Skirmish on the High Seas
The Battle for the South China Sea Is Officially On

The standoff between China and Vietnam over an oil rig under construction in the South China Sea has escalated to dangerous levels, the New York Times reports. A few days ago, CNOOC, the Chinese oil company, began establishing the oil rig just 120 nautical miles from Vietnam, in waters both Hanoi and Beijing claim. Vietnam protested and dispatched a naval flotilla to the area to make its message quite clear. According to Vietnamese officials, the Chinese ships then blasted it with water cannons, injuring the sailors, and rammed two coast guard vessels.

Yet China’s actions may have nothing to do with oil, a Reuters report suggests:

An oil industry official in China said the deployment of the rig owned by China’s CNOOC oil company to waters near Vietnam appeared to be a political decision rather than a commercial one.

“This reflected the will of the central government and is also related to the U.S. strategy on Asia,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“It is not commercially driven. It is also not like CNOOC has set a big exploration blueprint for the region.”

Whether purposely timed or not, Beijing has escalated its rhetoric and backed up words with action ever since President Obama’s tour of East Asia. “It is increasingly obvious that Washington is taking Beijing as an opponent,” warned one editorial in China Daily as soon as President Obama returned to the U.S. “Ganging up with its troublemaking allies, the U.S. is presenting itself as a security threat to China.” The editorial also called U.S. actions in East Asia “malicious.”

Vietnam vowed to do everything in its power to defend its ocean territory, while remaining within the bounds of international law. China’s rhetoric has been decidedly more aggressive. One editorial urged Chinese forces to give Vietnam a “lesson it deserves to get…. We believe Hanoi has no guts to attack China’s drilling platform directly.” For now, dozens of ships from both countries are staring each other down in the seas surrounding the contested oil rig, and no shots have been fired—yet.

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  • Corlyss

    Great! Now we can’t let him out of his cage even to get him out of the country to give us a breather from his constant moralizing harangues! Everywhere he goes, he leaves policy and practical disaster in his wake.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    We should threaten to cancel any US Treasuries owned by China if the go to war with America, then we should get in their face. $1.3 Trillion kiss it goodbye China LOL

    • LarryD

      I’m not sure that would be constitutional, in any case, the more present danger would appear to be China going to war with Vietnam.

      • Carey J

        If there were a declaration of war, Chinese assets could certainly be frozen, if not seized.

      • El Gringo

        That didn’t go so well for them last time.

    • Corlyss

      The Chinese are too subtle to do that. They’d more likely loose their rogue client states to hector us somewhere. They have been masterful in how they have selectively promoted nukes among nations living in the 17th century in strategic places to menace us.

  • Charles Hammond Jr

    I don’t understand China’s posturing except if I view China as a bully: as someone in the playground asserting power for the sake of asserting power.

    It’s going to backfire on China badly if this happens: they’re going to really screw up stability in the South China Sea. North Korea will get crazier. Japan will simply continue re-arming. China risks showing the world that it’s army is actually just a paper tiger: it looks good on paper but it’s actually ridden with corruption and the weakness it always brings with it.

    On a side note: isn’t Vietnam Communist? Isn’t China Communist? Then why are they fighting among each other!?

  • dwpittelli

    Why can’t these articles ever explain the exact nature of the territorial claims of the two countries? It’s 120 knots from Vietnam, but how far is it from China? Are there islands nearby? And if so, what is the nature of the two countries’ claims to these islands?

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