Tensions have been high for weeks in the South China Sea, as Beijing, Hanoi and Manila accuse each other of entering domestic waters and attacks. The Philippines has issued a formal complaint with the United Nations, whilst in Vietnam hundreds of people have demonstrated in front of Chinese diplomatic missions in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Chinese fishing boats were chased away by armed Vietnamese ships on Thursday
She said that during the incident the fishing net of one of the Chinese boats became tangled with the cables of a Vietnamese oil-exploring vessel, which continued to drag the Chinese vessel for more than an hour before the net had to be cut. China insists the Vietnamese vessel was operating illegally in the area claimed by China.
Hanoi has rejected China’s claims, describing the incident as a "premeditated and carefully calculated" attack meant to damage Vietnamese survey ships.
Many Vietnamese have reacted on social networks like Facebook taking a hard-line against the Chinese juggernaut, something Vietnamese authorities appear to favour. This, in turn, has fuelled the crisis between the two governments.
In one post, the invasion of Chinese products in Vietnam is labelled a “cancer”, and action by Chinese ships in the disputed waters is described as “piracy”.
Among Asia-Pacific nations, China has the most extensive maritime claims in the South China Sea. They include the uninhabited but resource-rich Spratly and Paracel Islands.
Hegemony in the area would be highly strategic given the importance of the resource-rich sea (especially oil and gas),
Beijing’s expansionist claims are challenged by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, backed by the United States, which has strategic interests of its own in the area.