06/05/2015, 00.00
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“Patriotic” cruises and joint airbases, as anti-Beijing alliance strengthens in the South China Sea

The Vietnamese government has launched "patriotic” cruises around islands disputed with Beijing. For 800 US dollars you can visit the Spratly and take part in a nighttime fishing expedition. Meanwhile, the Philippines gives Japan the go ahead to use its military bases. Tokyo may well contribute to the task of patrolling the seas to counter Chinese expansionism.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Vietnamese government has launched a special "cruise for true patriots" taking in some of the disputed islands in the South China Sea. Without doubt, this decision will stir up the already troubled waters in the area putting further tensions on relations with Beijing.

 At the special price of $ 800, later this month a group of 180 people will visit the islands that make up the archipelago of the Spratly, take part in a night time diving and fishing expedition and enjoy the delicious fish that inhabit these waters.

The  cruise should lasted about six days and includes a stop in two atolls and two other islands of the Spratly, better known in Vietnam as Truong Sa, occupied for some time by Hanoi and at the center of the dispute.

"Go to the Truong Sa ... it will be the ride of your life," reads a promotional slogan in vogue in the country, because it allows you to "revive national pride and sense of citizenship." The deep blue sea "will remain engraved in your hearts."

In spite of the links between the Communist Parties of China and Vietnam and in the face of a bilateral trade of at least 60 billion dollars a year, analysts and international policy experts agree in highlighting the growing divisions between Hanoi and Beijing. A tension that has exploded over the past year and that has drawn the Vietnamese government closer to the United States and the Philippines.

Meanwhile Manila is set to make a new alliance with Tokyo, granting Japan the use of military bases on Philippine territory for military aircraft and warships. This means that the Japanese army will be able to stock up on supplies and fuel, contributing to the work of patrolling the airspace and seas, in the area at the center of the dispute with Beijing.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, on an official visit to Tokyo, said that "we have started to discuss" the agreement with his Japanese counterpart, and an agreement should be reached soon. Japan and the United States could well give rise to joint patrols of the area, responding directly to the expansionist policies of China and the project launched by Beijing, which involves the construction of artificial islands in the disputed seas.

In fact, concern over China’s “imperialism” in the East and South China Seas is not limited to the Philippines.

Vietnam too has expressed objections. However, Manila went one step further and took its dispute to a UN tribunal, albeit one without binding authority.

Broadly speaking, China claims a large chunk of the South and East China Seas (almost 85 per cent), including the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.

Southeast Asian nations are backed by the United States. Washington rejects as “illegal" and "irrational" Beijing’s “cow tongue” claim in the South China Sea, which amounts to 80 per cent of 3.5-million km2-wide sea.

Moreover, China and Japan are also at loggerheads over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

With oil and gas in the seabed, the region has great economic and geopolitical importance, and carries an important strategic value for any hegemon.

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