05/18/2018, 12.25
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South China Sea, Beijing lashes out against Russian-Vietnamese drills in the disputed waters

The Lan Do field "Red Orchid" is located in Block 06.1, 85 km inside an area claimed by China and Vietnam. Hanoi: "Operations are authorized and carried out in areas under Vietnamese sovereignty and jurisdiction". Experts fear for Sino-Russian relations.

Hanoi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Rosneft Vietnam BV, a unit of the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft, is drilling in waters claimed by Beijing, which is likely to exacerbate tensions in the South China Sea.

Three days ago, Rosneft announced that it had started drilling the LD-3P well, part of the Lan Do field "Red Orchid", in Block 06.1. It is located 370 km south-east of Vietnam. The block is located within the area outlined by the "nine-point line", with which Beijing delimits a portion of the sea that extends for about 1,800 km south of mainland China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that no country, organization, company or individual can, without the permission of the Chinese government, carry out exploration and exploitation of oil or gas in waters under the jurisdiction of Beijing. "We urge stakeholders to respect China's sovereign and jurisdictional rights and not do anything that could affect bilateral relations or the peace and stability of this region," the official said yesterday.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said that oil and gas activities are conducted in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Ministry spokesman Le Thi Thu Hang reiterated that "operations are authorized and carried out in areas under Vietnamese sovereignty and jurisdiction".

Taking advantage of the ambiguity of international law, Beijing claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent). In addition to the Spratly, China’s claim includes the Gulf of Tonkin (disputed by Vietnam and China), the Paracel Islands (disputed by Vietnam, China, and Taiwan), the Scarborough Shoal (disputed by the Philippines, China and Taiwan).

To ensure the control of important maritime routes that cross these waters (more than a third of global trade), the Chinese government has started building a series of artificial islands, with military installations and lighthouses. Beijing has even imposed unilateral fishing bans.

The Chinese government claims sovereignty over large sections of the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam.

The maps of the area indicate that Block 06.1 is about 85 km inside the disputed area. In recent years, China has increasingly patrolled and strengthened the area, claiming historic rights to resources and islands within it. In March, following pressure from Beijing, Hanoi interrupted an oil drilling project in the nearby "Red Emperor" block. The latter is licensed to the Spanish energy company Repsol, which has asked Vietnam for compensation.

The Russian companies Rosneft and Gazprom have important development projects in the Vietnamese waters that fall within the area claimed by China. Analysts say it would be a blow to the Sino-Russian agreement if Beijing were to ask Moscow to end its energy plans in Vietnam. Beijing has become Russia's main export destination, mainly because Moscow is its main supplier of oil and gas.

Rosneft drilling is important for Vietnam. The country already receives about 30% of its gas needs from block 06.1, thanks to oil and gas operations that were established for the first time more than 15 years ago. The block is operated by Rosneft and is owned by a consortium consisting of ONGC, Rosneft and Petro Vietnam.

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