Berlin (EAST SEA) Wednesday, May 10th, 2023 / 04:54 PM

Cluster of Chinese vessels spotted near Russian rig off Vietnam – ship monitors

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

A China Coast Guard vessel patrols at the disputed Scarborough Shoal April 5, 2017. Picture taken April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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

Strong relations between Russia and China are a major factor supporting global stability, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March, but the two countries have conflicting interests in the South China Sea.

The Chinese research ship, two coast guard and 11 fishing boats entered block 04-03 of Vietsovpetro, a venture between Russia’s Zarubezhneft and PetroVietnam, and were still in the area by nightfall, data from two independent vessel monitors reviewed by Reuters showed.

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

China has been accused of using its coast guard and an armada of fishing boats widely considered militia to intimidate and disrupt energy activities, including off Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Beijing says it is lawfully operating in its waters.

But the move on Wednesday was “extraordinary”, according to Ray Powell, who leads Stanford University’s Project Myoushu on the South China Sea, because of “the sheer number of militia and coast guard ships involved”.

“It seems they are sending a message about China’s jurisdiction over Vietnam’s oil and gas operations,” Powell said, adding at least three Vietnamese fisheries surveillance vessels had moved close to the Chinese ships.

For more at reuters.com

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