mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Asia's Game of Thrones
Vietnam Goes Bold In the South China Sea

Vietnam continues to be China’s feistiest rival in the South China Sea. Earlier this week, BBC News broke the story that Hanoi had allowed oil drilling to proceed in the South China Sea, setting off a diplomatic row with China:

An oil industry consultant told the BBC that a drilling ship on contract to international firm Talisman-Vietnam was working off Vietnam’s south-east coast.

This appears to be why a senior Chinese general cut short an official visit to Vietnam last month. […]

According to Ian Cross, of Singapore-based Moyes & Co, the drillship Deepsea Metro I, began to drill in an area of sea about 400km (250 miles) off the Vietnamese coast on 21 June. […]

The piece of seabed in question is known as Block 136-03 by Vietnam, but China calls it Wan-an Bei 21 and has leased out the same area to a different company.

Block 136-03 is not the only site where Vietnam is pushing China’s buttons. Reuters reports today that Hanoi has given an Indian company the go-ahead to proceed with oil exploration in block 128, another area of contention:

Vietnam granted Indian oil firm ONGC Videsh a two-year extension to explore oil block 128 in a letter that arrived earlier this week, the state-run company’s managing director Narendra K. Verma told Reuters. […]

A senior official of ONGC Videsh … said interest in the block was strategic rather than commercial, given that oil development there was seen as high-risk with only moderate potential.

“Vietnam also wants us to be there because of China’s interventions in the South China Sea,” the official said.

The timing here does not seem accidental. Vietnam renewed the Indian oil deal just after Vietnam’s Foreign Minister concluded a four-day visit to India, where he talked up greater security and economic cooperation. The same week, India’s External Affairs Minister was singing to Vietnam’s tune at an ASEAN event, insisting that countries uphold “freedom of navigation and respect for international law” in the South China Sea, while forecasting a greater Indian role in cooperating with ASEAN. Those signals add more data points to a growing picture of Indian-Vietnamese alignment as both countries cooperate to turn up the heat on China.

To top it all off, Vietnam also kicked off joint drills with the U.S. Navy yesterday. Those exercises were previously scheduled, but they came just days after an American warship sailed by a China-claimed islet in the South China Sea, provoking furious denunciations from Beijing. Taken together with recent promises of U.S.-Vietnamese intelligence sharing, China may swiftly conclude that the U.S. is about to more aggressively counter China’s claims and support Vietnam.

Until recently, China has enjoyed a substantially free hand in the South China Sea, making major progress without sufficient pushback. As Vietnam acts more boldly to defy China’s claims, and larger powers like the U.S. and India step up their commitments, could that be about to change?

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • TPAJAX

    Tried and true schoolyard rules. Pushers get pushed. China is a pusher so its very natural and okay to push china. Vietnam should have Brahmos missiles from India and SU-30Mks equipped with those Brahmos. Its a good working combo for India already.

  • GOD

    CHINA IS A PAPER TIGER, A PUSH BY VIETNAM AND CHINA WILL FOLD…..

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    China’s and North Korea’s Belligerence have created such a huge opportunity for America. I wish the stupid State Department would get off their asses and negotiate an extremely favorable to America economic and defense alliance from India to Japan and from South Korea to Australia.

  • tellourstory

    This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. China has been bullying Vietnam for several years now, culminating in the Vietnamese burning down Chinese factories and forcing China to move its oil rig out of Vietnam’s waters in 2014. Vietnam has been friendlier towards the US as a result, not to mention that they have hard feelings towards China for the land grab made at the end of the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979. The US would be smart to cultivate this relationship, along with forming an official alliance between itself, India and Japan.

  • Che Guevara

    Blinded by anti-communist orthodoxy, the U.S. fought a vicious and pointless war against Vietnam. Communist Vietnam eventually won, but the World didn’t come to an end, as the U.S. feared. Instead, Vietnam has emerged as a potential U.S. ally. If the U.S. had consulted some history books, instead of flexing its muscles, then it would have discovered that China is Vietnam’s historical foe, and as soon as the threat from the U.S. receded, China and Vietnam were at odds. The U.S. is now using this split to regain some influence in Southeast Asia, without having to fight a war.
    The U.S. is yet to discover that geostrategic thinking informed by history, plus smart diplomacy, can take it much farther than spending fortunes on pointless wars.

    • ——————————

      I don’t agree with your first sentence, and having been to several SE Asian countries, including Vietnam, I can tell you that there are many there who are glad we tried.
      It was not “pointless”. We were trying to stop the spread of communism into SE Asia. The spread of communism was a huge threat to democracy at the time, and worth fighting. It is easy to look back now and say “waste of time, world didn’t come to an end”, etc.’, but in the 60’s we didn’t know communism would eventually fall into harmless irrelevancy….

      • Che Guevara

        If the U.S. was the only force preventing communism from spreading in Southeast Asia, then why didn’t communism spread after the U.S. pulled out and Vietnam won? The U.S. couldn’t prevent Vietnam from becoming communist, and Vietnam becoming communist didn’t lead to catastrophe either. The U.S. over-estimates its ability to control events, and has an illusion that its futile actions have a positive effect on the World.
        The belief that the U.S. is the only force preventing the World from falling apart is an example of illusion of control. Illusion of control is a psychological phenomenon, in which people overestimate their ability to control events. The U.S. isn’t preventing the World from falling apart, because the World doesn’t need to be held together by anyone.

    • Muhammad Peace be Upon Me

      Well I hear you, but it was a little bit more complicated than that. At that time there were two Vietnams. South Vietnam was its own country and had its own army that wanted to fight the communists and they were Christians or some other religion, and they weren’t communist. They were fighting North Vietnamese communist since the 50s.

      Very much like North Korea being supported by China and Russia, it invaded South Korea to start the war. North Vietnam similarly supported by china and Russia invaded SV via the Ho Chi Minh trail. And that trail actually went throug NVA-occupied parts of Laos and Cambodia of course.

      And when the US left there was a negotiated deal. The US didn’t “lose”. South Vietnam was still a country and there was a negotiated deal. Turned out to be a bad deal no less because the Communists broke it less than two years later and just overran the south after America was gone. Seems like the most important lesson learned was with regards to South Korea. When you hear the Chinese and the Russians and Obese Jong Un talk about ceasing US-Korea drills and preparedness we know better now.

      • rheddles

        The Communists broke it because they knew the democrats would betray the South Vietnamese by denying them funding for self defence.The democrats have always been flexible for the Russians.

      • KremlinKryptonite

        Yes, it has always really bothered me when people try to cheapen the sacrifice of the South Vietnamese ARVN who were fighting the communist for 10 years before America got involved, and did their best after America left after Kissinger concluded what can only be called a bad deal.

    • Jeff77450

      Disclaimer: I’m not a historian or a strategist or a policy-wonk. Hind-sight is 20/20 and for all of the obvious reasons I wish that the U.S. hadn’t gotten involved in Vietnam. As with slavery, I believe that the U.S. would be doing much better than we are if Vietnam had never happened. But given the “zeitgeist” it was arguably inevitable. Khrushchev had vowed to “bury” the West and we took that threat seriously. We’d had some victories in “containing” communism to include the Berlin Airlift, Malaya and Korea.

      The Korea War was probably seen as the template for dealing with communist aggression in Vietnam. Two oblong Asian countries, both on a north-south axis, both with a communist north allied with our enemies and a non-communist south in (perceived) need of rescuing. We’d held the line in Korea, the thinking probably went, we could do it again in Vietnam. The U.S. did not experience military defeat in Vietnam but ultimately we did fail to achieve our goal of a free & independent Republic of Vietnam. I don’t remember who but someone offered the opinion that the U.S. effort in Vietnam gave other countries in the region time to bolster their defenses and be better prepared to resist communism. If so, there was some small pay-off although one that was no where near worth the costs.

      From your name & avatar I gather that you are pro-socialism/communism and anti-U.S./West/Capitalism. Why anyone bothers to pretend that socialism/communism produces better results than free market capitalism or is otherwise something to aspire to is quite beyond me. Free market capitalism, combined with the industrial revolution, has created more wealth and lifted more people out of poverty than any other system tried. Socialism/communism has failed spectacularly again and again and always will because of certain immutable realities of human nature. People quite naturally want to be rewarded in proportion to the value of their work and they want to be free to do with their money as they please. And that may very well include giving it away to worthy causes like Bill Gates and ~147 other billionaires are doing through his foundation. But no one wants a gun held to their head and “robbing Peter in order to pay Paul.” Well, *Paul* wants it.

      Yes, free market capitalism (and democracy) have their warts & blemishes, shameful chapters and excesses. But to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, free market capitalism is the *worst* economic system—except for all the others that have been tried. The worst excesses, like slavery and child-labor, were eventually dealt with. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

      • Che Guevara

        No, despite my avatar I don’t consider myself anti-U.S. nor anti-capitalism. I actually like U.S. capitalism in principle (despite its many flaws), and I have greatly prospered under it.
        Communists were not implacable enemies of the U.S., and there was never a communist threat to the U.S. It was rather the U.S. that was hostile to communism, not the other way around. None of the communist countries intended to invade the U.S. The Korean and Vietnam wars were wars of liberation led by communists, in order to liberate their countries from U.S. occupation, since the South Korean and South Vietnamese governments were just puppet regimes.
        Communists weren’t planning to spread revolution to the U.S., but wanted to trade and coexist. For example, after the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro visited the U.S. and asked for money, but was rebuffed. So the U.S. had a chance to develop peaceful relations with communist Cuba, but instead chose invasions (Bay of Pigs), subversion (US Aid), and economic warfare against Cuba. The policy of containment of communism was therefore evil, foolish, and also doomed to fail in countries where communism was popular.
        Communism was an enormous success in the Soviet Union and China, because it transformed feudal agrarian societies into modern industrial societies, and eradicated famines and illiteracy. China is a dictatorship to this day, with large parts of its economy under state planning, and it has worked very well.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fidel_Castro
        In April 1959 Castro visited the U.S. on a charm offensive where he met Vice President Richard Nixon. Castro attended an economic conference in Buenos Aires, unsuccessfully proposing a $30 billion U.S.-funded “Marshall Plan” for Latin America.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service