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Vietnam warns China over sea patrols
by Staff Writers
Hanoi, Vietnam (UPI) Jun 1, 2011

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Vietnam said it will do everything in it power to protect its coastal waters after China allegedly interfered with two of Hanoi's seismic survey vessels.

Hanoi aimed the warning directly at Beijing after claiming three Chinese patrol boats entered its territorial waters and intentionally cut a subsea cable before making threatening gestures toward the Vietnamese ships.

China previously rejected the claim that its ships had cut the cables and countered saying the Vietnamese ships owned by the state oil and gas company PetroVietnam were operating in Chinese waters.

But Vietnam said the incident took place 80 miles off its south-central coast -- well within its territorial waters and around 370 miles south of China's Hainan Island.

"Vietnam resolutely opposes the action of the Chinese which damaged and hindered Vietnam's normal exploration and survey activities on its continental shelf and in its exclusive economic zone, causing great damages to PetroVietnam," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga told a news conference in Hanoi.

"The Vietnamese navy will do everything necessary to firmly protect peace and the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Vietnam," Nga said.

The area in which the Vietnamese vessels were operating was within Vietnam's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, as stipulated by the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, she said, adding this is neither a disputed area nor, as the Chinese claimed, an area "managed by China."

The diplomatic war of words comes as delegates from the two countries will meet in Singapore this week at the 10th Asia Security Summit organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The cables were being towed by PetroVietnam's ship Binh Minh 02. Do Van Hau, deputy chief executive of PetroVietnam said it wasn't the first time Chinese ships had cut cables belonging to Vietnamese survey boats.

"The Chinese vessels were going at very high speed and did not respond to our ship's warning and then they cut the cables of the Binh Minh 02, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from where it was positioned," he said. "It's impossible to cut cables at a depth of 30 meters (98 feet) beneath the sea without special equipment."

The ships stopped working to repair the damage and seismic operations later resumed, he said.

The incident is the latest clash between China and its maritime neighbors over marine territorial claims.

In early May China said it had embarked on a program to boost its maritime patrol service by at least 10 percent in the face of increasing incursions into its territorial waters. By the end of the year, around 1,000 recruits will be added to the 9,000 already employed.

The maritime service has about 300 vessels, including 30 rated more than 1,000 tons, and 10 planes, including four helicopters. Within five years, another 36 ships are expected to be commissioned "to improve law enforcement capacity," a spokesman for China Marine Surveillance said.

The service estimated that it carried out around 1,100 flights and more than 13,300 sea patrol voyages last year. It investigated nearly 1,400 illegal offshore activities and handed out fines totaling $116 million in 2010.

Beijing and Hanoi have long disputed ownership over the potentially resource-rich Paracel archipelago and the more southerly Spratly Islands -- a collection of more than 700 reefs, atolls and cays whose total land mass is measured in several square miles, depending on tides.

Apart from China and Vietnam, the Spratly Islands, or some of them, are claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

In 1974, China occupied the Paracel Islands, seizing them from Vietnam. China calls the Paracel Islands the Xisha Islands and they are governed as part of China's nearby Hainan Island province.

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