CHINA has been left humiliated after aggressive water grabs and persistent bickering with Asian neighbours has only resulted in a withdrawal from Vietnamese waters, and their status as top dog could be further challenged as the Philippines look to bolster the defence of their own waters amid escalating tension.
A Chinese oil survey vessel that has been embroiled in a tense standoff with Vietnamese vessels in the South China Sea left Vietnamese-controlled waters on Thursday after more than three months, marine data showed. The Haiyang Dizhi 8, was speeding away from Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone towards China on Thursday under the escort of at least two Chinese ships, according to data from Marine Traffic, a website that tracks vessels. This represents an embarrassing defeat for China President Xi Jinping after overseeing audacious and aggressive water grabs in recent years leading to growing squabbles with many of Beijing’s Asian neighbours.
If Xi was left furious with the submission of the Chinese vessel, he will be enraged to discover that he could also lose out in another region of interest, as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has started beefing up Manila’s defensive capabilities amid ongoing rows with China.
National security adviser under Duterte Hermogenes Esperon said: “Whatever we spend on defence should strengthen our position on developing our maritime domain especially the West Philippine Sea into what we call the blue economy.”
Capitalising on the so-called blue economy, such as using the oceans to generate energy, or tapping its oil and mineral resources, could help boost economic growth in the Philippines, where one-fifth of its 107 million people still live below the national poverty line.
The ban on foreign scientific research last year focused on an area called the Benham Rise, which the United Nations in 2012 declared part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
In 2016, the Philippines won a case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating China’s claims to almost the entire stretch of sea. China does not recognise the ruling.
The tribunal in The Hague found that China had violated sovereign Filipino rights under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Mr Duterte said he has been offered a controlling stake in a joint energy deal by Xi Jinping in exchange for ignoring the international arbitration in Manila’s favour.
The Chinese government has history with the Philippines over the region. In 1994, China had a similar confrontation by asserting its ownership of Mischief Reef, which was inside the claimed EEZ of the Philippines.
However, China arguably has far more baggage when it comes to exchanges with Vietnam, with whom violent and frightening skirmishes have sporadically occured, even resulting in war.
On February 17, 1979, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops crossed Vietnam’s northern border to invade the country, waging a bloody strike along the 370-mile border that the two nations share.
The result was as comprehensive as it was deadly. A far inferior Vietnamese army were picked apart by waves of Chinese invasion.
The Chinese overran important cities and mountainous areas where sporadic conflict would persist for the next decade.
In 1988, 64 Vietnamese soldiers were killed in a conflict over the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea.
In 2014, there was a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese military, as a Chinese oil rig entered disputed waters where Vietnam had also contested for ownership.
It seems that smaller nations in the region are taking a stand as Xi Jinping’s South China Sea ambitions begin to unravel.