Washington (AsiaNews / Agencies) - China will continue oil exploration in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, despite a wave of protests that have engulfed Vietnam and which have recently turned violent. General Fang Fenghui, Head of People's Liberation Army, who is currently on an official visit to the United States stated has confirmed this position. The senior official said that Beijing cannot " afford to cede even an inch" of territory and will employ all necessary measures "to ensure the safety of the platform, so that operations can continue". He also blames Hanoi for being responsible for the escalation of tension in the Asia-Pacific region .
The violence is motivated by China's decision in early May, to build a platform for oil exploration, the Haiyang Shiyou 981 off the east coast of Vietnam, followed by the dispatch of naval ships, fighter jets and helicopters to patrol the area. A move that has exacerbated nationalism of a large portion of the Vietnamese population , which has responded with street protests that have taken a violent drift characterized by riots and assaults that have led to at least 20 deaths and hundreds of injured .
While a rising nationalism and discontent towards Beijing and China's interests in the area mount in Vietnam, according to the head of the People's Liberation Army it is " obvious " who "is conducting normal activities " and who is attempting to cause "disturbances". Gen. Fang Fenghui has also warned Washington, formerly a close ally of Manila in the region, not to "take sides " in the dispute between Hanoi and Beijing. Barack Obama's recent visit to South -East Asia, in which he re-launched U.S. presence in the region, and joint Naval exercises between the U.S. and Philippines is in fact, a source of provocation and tension for China.
Meanwhile, a Beijing delegation has begun an official visit to Vietnam for talks with the Hanoi government, in an attempt to overcome divisions . In an official statement to the police Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung termed the protests against the "illegal platform " as " legitimate actions" but also added that those who violate the law will be punished and that the interests of foreign companies must be "protected".
Vietnam is not alone in its concerns. The Philippines too has been increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. In recent months, China has used various political, economic and diplomatic means to hamper non-Chinese vessels from fishing or moving through the disputed waters. For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational". Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it.