A naval officer, who declined to give his name, said the first part of the nine-hour exercise began in the morning on and around the uninhabited island of Hon Ong, some 40 kilometres off the coast. He explained that it was a routine annual training exercise involving various types of artillery and other weapons, but that no missiles would be fired. A second drill lasting five hours was scheduled for the evening. “It has nothing to do with the recent incidents involving China,” he said.
The drill comes after Hanoi and Beijing exchanged heated jabs over two recent incidents involving Vietnamese-operated oil and gas exploration vessels in the fish- and energy-rich waters around the Spratly and Paracel Islands, claimed by both countries. China, Vietnam and other regional powers have staked claims to parts of the sea and its underwater resources.
Energy and mineral-hungry China is the leading contender, making claims that far exceed its maritime borders and what international law would allow.
Chinese media have slammed Vietnam for its action, calling it a show of force meant to challenge Beijing.
In Vietnam, anti-Chinese protests have erupted (pictured) in the capital. Yesterday, like the Sunday before, demonstrators were held in front of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi. More than 100 people waved flags, sang patriotic songs and chanted ‘Down with China’ and ‘The Spratlys and Paracels belong to Vietnam’.
Vietnamese authorities tolerated the anti-China protests. Police told protesters to leave after about 20 minutes but let them march around Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of the city.
Among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region, China has the most extensive claims in the South China Sea, which includes the uninhabited Spratly and Paracel Islands, with rich fishing grounds and important oil and gas reserves.
Beijing’s claims also reflect its strategic goal of hegemony that would enable it to control trade and mineral development, above all oil and natural gas.
Chinese demands have not gone unchallenged. Contenders include Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, as well as the United States, which has its own strategic interests in the region.