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SOUTH CHINA SEA disputes have created a political and even military standoff between the US and China as both look to assert control over contested waters. However, with Russia quietly wading into the contest, the risk of clashes between superpower nations only increases.

China has clashed on multiple occasions with smaller nations in the South China Sea region, none more so that Vietnam and the Philippines. But Russia has grown close ties with Beijing’s two rivals and is being aided by both Manila and Hanoi in its own exploration of resource rich areas of the contested region.RELATED ARTICLES

As highlighted by National Interest, President in the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte invited Moscow-based energy company Rosneft to conduct oil and gas exploration in waters claimed by Manila.Filipino representatives have also been invited to Moscow and have agreed for Manila’s ships to explore oil rich waters near Russia.Rosneft is half owned by the Russian government, and therefore indicates President Vladimir Putin is showing more and more interest in the South China Sea.Russia also has close ties with Vietnam, with the two nations making defence a core part of their relations.South China Sea: Putin could scupper Xi Jinping’s plans Hanoi and Moscow agreed defence cooperation agreement covering 2018–2020 last year, and agreed to enhance defence cooperation during 2019–2023. Russia and Vietnam also elevated their bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2012, National Interest reports.Even more worrying for Beijing Rosneft’s exploration in waters claimed by Vietnam, but also contested by China.Russian exploration breaks the conditions set by China that ‘no country, organisation, company or individual can, without the permission of the Chinese government, carry out oil and gas exploration and exploitation activities in waters under Chinese jurisdiction’ chaos impacted China, differing outlooks on the South China Sea could cause political uproar.Vietnam have been particularly difficult for China to contend with, being the only smaller nation to put up substantial resistance to China’s encroachment.Earlier this year, Beijing and Hanoi were embroiled in a three months long standoff as Chinese oil vessel – Haiyang Dizhi 8 – remained in Vietnam’s economic exclusion zone.

The South China Sea is host to lucrative shipping lanes and trading ports, provoking President Xi Jinping to enforce a controversial Nine-Dash Line demarcation of what China deems to be its territory.The demarcation enforces a claim over all of the island clusters in the region and 90 percent of the South China Sea as a whole, but is deemed illegal by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).This has angered smaller nations in the region such as Vietnam and the Philippines, both of whom are reeling at China’s militarisation of the Spratly Islands – a key archipelago in the region that both countries claim sovereignty over.The Spratly Islands form the epicentre of the complex disputes, as China occupies seven features, and has heavily militarised its portion of the archipelago.