A Vietnamese vessel on Saturday probed a Chinese coast guard vessel over a Russian gas field in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the South China Sea, data showed – the latest Chinese patrol to last more than a year.
According to ship tracking data from Vietnam’s research institute South China Sea Chronicle Initiative (SCSCI), Chinese coast guard vessels have directly visited energy exploration blocks owned by Russian companies in Vietnam’s EEZ about 40 times since January 2022. – Profit structure.
China considers the area part of its extensive territorial claim in the South China Sea marked by the “nine-dash line,” which the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2016 had no legal basis. China has built artificial islands and airports on some reefs and offshore islands, raising concerns in the region and in the United States.
Both Vietnam and Indonesia have asked China to exclude these areas from their EEZs — even though the zones are not territorial waters and have no navigational restrictions under international law. The patrols mirror Chinese coast guard operations elsewhere in the South China Sea, where such vessels have been used to assert territorial claims.
“China claims coastal energy resources and uses its coast guard to pressure regional states,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
Maps using AIS (Automatic Identification System) signals from these vessels produced by SSCCI show that Chinese ships followed similar routes at least 34 times last year from Vanguard Bank near the borders of the exclusive economic zones. The EEZs of Vietnam and Indonesia extend to two Russian-controlled blocks 50 nautical miles (92 kilometers) apart – sometimes 1 nautical mile from the main sources.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, Russian state-owned Zarubezhneft is the operator and shareholder of one of the two blocks, 06-01; Russian gas giant Gazprom is a partner in another, 05-03, which is operated by a subsidiary of PetroVietnam, the country’s state-owned fossil fuel company.
Records show the Chinese vessel passed both barriers on Saturday. The Kiem Ngu 278, a Vietnamese vessel operated by the Fisheries Law Enforcement Agency, followed the vessel, sometimes coming within several hundred meters.
From these blocks, about 630 nautical miles off the Chinese island of Hainan, Chinese vessels usually return on a direct route to Vanguard Bank, where they are docked, according to data reviewed by Reuters. Instead, the Chinese ship headed towards Malaysia’s EEZ on Saturday.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said China’s coast guard was conducting patrols in China’s territorial waters in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, and was not aware of any patrols in Russian-controlled areas.
A spokesman for Vietnam’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Vietnam was working to “protect its legal rights” in the South China Sea.
Zarubezhneft, Gazprom and the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Hanoi did not respond to requests for comment.
Exclusive economic zones generally extend 200 nautical miles (370 km) offshore. Under international law, a country’s territorial waters — within which it can control all activities — generally extend about 12 nautical miles from the coast. Conflicts can arise when such claims overlap.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei are other countries that claim the South China Sea.
The gas-rich fields exploited by Russian companies are far from the Vietnamese coast and close to Indonesia’s EEZ and Indonesia’s strategic border with blocks claimed by China.
Since at least November, China’s coast guard vessels have also expanded their routes, passing through Block 12-11, jointly operated by Zarubezhneft and PetroVietnam, en route to oil and gas sector 12W, operated by Britain’s Harbor Energy, SSCCI data show.
Patrols in the area operated by Harbor Energy began in December 2022 ahead of Indonesia and Vietnam signing an agreement demarcating the boundaries of their EEZs in the South China Sea and paving the way for gas deals.
Harbor Energy declined to comment.
Harbor Energy and Zarubezhneft are developing the nearby Tuna gas field in the Indonesian EEZ, from which Jakarta plans to export gas to Vietnam from 2026. The project is currently on hold due to Western sanctions against certain companies linked to Ukraine.
In January, Indonesia sent a warship to intercept a Chinese vessel.
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