Vietnam has called on China to remove an oil exploration ship from disputed waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Reports in recent days have suggested a large-scale standoff between several coastguard ships from each country as a Chinese oil exploration ship entered contested waters near the Spratly Islands.
“Over the last several days, the Chinese survey ship, Haiyang Dizhi 8, and its escorts conducted activities in the southern area of the East Sea that violated Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” Vietnamese foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement on Friday, using the Vietnamese term for the South China Sea.
“This area lies entirely within the Vietnamese waters.”
Vietnam has demanded China stop the “unlawful activities” and that its ships leave Vietnamese waters, she said.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper reported on July 12 that six “heavily armed” coastguard vessels, two from China and four from Vietnam, had been eyeing each other since the beginning of the month.
Publicly available shipping data confirms the presence of the Chinese oil exploration ship in the disputed waters, near where the Russian oil company Rosneft began drilling on May 12 in a joint venture with Vietnam.
Oil exploration in the South China Sea is a highly fraught issue in both countries, which fought a series of violent disputes between 1974 and 1988 over control of the Spratly and Parcel Islands.
In 2014, deadly riots broke out throughout Vietnam after a Chinese drilling rig entered the disputed waters, while Vietnam’s unexplained decision to suddenly cancel a drilling contract with Spanish company Repsol in 2017 occurred during heightened tensions with China.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including waters within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.