By James Pearson
HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese police on Tuesday broke up a brief protest outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi against Beijing’s maritime survey of an offshore block in the southeast Asian nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a Reuters witness said.
Vietnamese and Chinese ships have been in a weeks-long standoff near the oil block, the latest confrontation in waters that are a potential global flashpoint as the United States challenges China’s sweeping maritime claims.
Protests in the authoritarian and Communist-ruled Southeast Asian country are rare, and police dispersed the short-lived demonstration of about 10 activists of the “No-U” group within minutes.
“We are doing this in front of the Chinese embassy to show our anger to the world,” Le Hoang, one of the protesters, told Reuters.
Vietnam accuses Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts of illegal activities in the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and has demanded that China withdraw all its ships.
Last week, a Vietnamese fishermen’s group urged the government to take stronger measures to remove the ships, saying they were disrupting fishing activities.
“I really hope that Vietnam will launch a lawsuit in the international court against China’s violations and its illegal nine-dash line,” Hoang added.
The “No-U” group takes its name from the U-shaped “nine-dash line” marking China’s claims in a vast expanse of the South China Sea, including large swathes of Vietnam’s continental shelf, where it has awarded oil concessions.
The Haiyang Dizhi 8, operated by the China Geological Survey, and several Chinese Coast Guard ships were still in Vietnam’s EEZ as recently as Monday, the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) said, using data from maritime analytics company Winward.
Last week, Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh warned about an increasingly complicated situation at sea, during a visit to Vietnam’s main strategic naval base in the central port city of Cam Ranh, state media said.
Meeting China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Bangkok last week, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said the two sides needed to maintain peace and stability and better manage maritime disputes, Vietnam said in a statement.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Chinese “coercion” in the disputed South China Sea, while Wang Yi said maritime problems involving Vietnam should not interfere with two-way ties.
(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)