A cluster of Chinese ships was spotted near the Russian rig off Vietnam – ship watchers

  • Movement of 14 Chinese ships 'abnormal’ – Monitor
  • China says the operations are normal 'within its jurisdiction’
  • Beijing has been accused of disrupting energy jobs for press claims
  • Ships in waters near Japanese, Russian-operated rigs

May 10 (Reuters) – A Chinese research vessel flanked by the coast guard and nearly a dozen boats on Wednesday entered a gas block operated by Russian and Vietnamese state companies, two monitoring groups said, another potential flashpoint in the South China Sea.

It follows a pattern of assertive moves of late by Beijing in its neighbors’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ), as it presses its claim to sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, testing the United States and its allies regionally. tension

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March that strong ties between Russia and China are an important factor supporting global stability, but the two countries have conflicting interests in the South China Sea.

A Chinese research vessel, two coast guard vessels and 11 fishing boats entered block 04-03 of the Vyatsovpetro between Russia’s Zarubezhneft and PetroVietnam and remained in the area overnight, data from two independent ship monitors reviewed by Reuters showed.

The Chinese group was close to the 05-1B and 05-1C blocks operated by Idemitsu Oil & Gas, a unit of Japan’s Idemitsu Kosen ( 5019.T ), the data showed.

China has been accused of using its coast guard and weapons of fishing boats to threaten and disrupt energy operations, including in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Beijing says it operates legally in its waters.

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But Wednesday’s operation was „unusual,” according to Ray Powell, who leads Stanford University’s Project Mushu in the South China Sea, „because of the small number of combatants and Coast Guard vessels involved.”

„It looks like they’re sending a message about China’s jurisdiction over Vietnam’s oil and gas activities,” Powell said, adding that at least three Vietnamese fishing monitoring vessels have passed close to Chinese ships.

’China’s Jurisdiction’

China’s foreign ministry said the actions were „normal”.

„Chinese fishing and scientific research vessels carry out normal production and work activities in maritime areas under China’s jurisdiction,” it said.

It made similar comments on Tuesday after Chinese boats approached the area where the navies of India and Southeast Asian nations were engaged in exercises.

Japan’s Idemitsu declined to comment. Vietnam’s foreign ministry and other relevant agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, the Chinese vessels were about 10 nautical miles (18 km) from the Japanese operating rig and about 20 miles from the Russia-Vietnam rig, according to the South China Sea Chronicle Initiative (SCSCI), an independent non-profit organization.

SCSCI’s Van Baum said the Chinese research vessel moved at full speed before entering Vietnam’s EEZ but slowed to 4-5 knots as the vessel was conducting a survey there.

Inspections conducted in a country’s EEZ without prior notice have been considered hostile or provocative in previous cases.

It follows similar incidents in March over two blocks involving Russian companies in Vietnam, which has licensed more than 150 blocks.

Reporting by Francesco Guaraccio @fraguarascio; Additional reporting by Larry Chen in Beijing and Kan Vu in Hanoi; Editing by Martin Petty

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