Vietnam’s latest challenge to China’s growing dominance in the South China Sea has so far been met with a muted reaction from Beijing.
Vietnam gave the go-ahead this month for drilling in disputed waters off its southeastern coast to the local subsidiary of the Russian state oil firm, Rosneft.
The move is part of Vietnam’s strategy to internationalise the various territorial disputes in the South China Sea to try to counter-balance the fast growing might of China.
The strategy has suffered a series of setbacks because of pressure from China, including a reported threat of military action last year.
The Vietnamese government pulled the plug on two drilling projects by the Spanish firm Repsol following the warnings.
It appears to be hoping that China will refrain from action over the Rosneft field for fear of damaging its friendly relations with Moscow.
The Foreign Ministry in Hanoi said the block, southeast of Vung Tau and close to the blocks set aside for Repsol, was entirely under Vietnamese sovereignty and jurisdiction.
China replied that its sovereign rights must be respected, but appears not to have taken further action.
China sees any attempt by Vietnam to extract resources from areas that fall within or close to Beijing’s self declared “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea as a direct challenge to its sovereignty.
Its military position in the disputed areas is being increased at a rapid rate, making Vietnam’s attempts to assert its own claims increasingly precarious.
China this week landed a long-range bomber on one of its islands in the South China Sea for the first time.
The plane carried out landings and takeoffs on Woody Island in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam.
Analysts expect China will next send strategic bombers to the Spratlys further south, where it has completed the construction of new air bases and garrisoned them with radar installations and missile batteries.