The latest antics over territorial waters came this week from China and Vietnam in the South China Sea. As China continues to extend its littoral control, it continues to jeopardize its relationships with its neighbors who are pushing back. The event happened over the weekend when Vietnamese patrol boats sailed to the South China Sea, 140 miles from the Vietnamese coast, to protest the China's first deep-water oil rig. The Chinese flotilla that accompanied the rig greatly outnumbered and outgunned the small Vietnamese contingency. The Chinese deployment of the oil rig to the contested waters was called 'unhelpful and provocative' that only causes tensions and undermines the stability of the region. When the Chinese naval vessel rammed and damaged a Vietnamese patrol boat, it marked a more aggressive tactics on behalf of the Chinese to defend its claims. No shots were fired, but instead, China engaged in a water fight from its cannons to enforce it's oil rig expedition.
This more belligerent move by the Chinese has a number of implications that may greatly alter not only regional dynamics and bilateral relationships, but also impending economic agreements. Much like its ADIZ declaration six month ago, China again is causing relationships to realign. The ADIZ move proved to unite and quiet the disputing between South Korea and Japan, who took part in joint-exercises with the United States to dismiss Beijing's move. Now this latest event stands to do the same by unifying Southeast Asian nations. Not only that, it has also pushed nations like Indonesia and Malaysia from their neutral stance in the maritime battles to now protesting and expressing concern over China's unilateral advances.
Perhaps what should have been one of China's main concerns before engaging the Vietnamese was its relationship with Russia. In this rash act, China stands to jeopardize its ties with Moscow. Not only are the Chinese close to signing an energy deal with Russia that would funnel much needed natural gas exports into China's northeast, but Russia has also been actively engaging Vietnam diplomatically. Moscow has began developing closer ties with the Vietnamese to also contain China's southeast expansion. Moreover, in a number of arrangements Moscow and Hanoi are set to construct nuclear reactors financed by the Russians that would build a long term energy relationship. This move by Moscow is in attempts to diversify its energy export sector, as well as lay the groundwork for potential naval basing rights in the region. In addition to energy security deals, Vietnam also purchases a number of arms from Russia as well as procuring a number of Russian submarines, frigates, and other naval vessels.
|It's safe to say Russia and Vietnam are more than friends.|
At any rate, it will be interesting to see how this situation continues to unravel and affect diplomatic relationships. As a first real sign of Chinese aggression at seas over its territorial claims, more clashes might be on the horizon. For the time being, the hope can be that China will only stick to its guns--water guns that is. However, the use of its water canons begs the question--Did the Chinese Navy and Coast Guard think that the Vietnamese would just melt away? I'm afraid that is hardly the case.