HANOI, Vietnam, Aug. 19 (UPI) — The Vietnamese government warned demonstrators in Hanoi to end their weekly protests against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea or face police action.
If the demonstrations, which have occurred since early June and attracted 300 or more people, aren’t halted, police and security authorities will move in, an unsigned article in the government mouthpiece Ha noi Moi newspaper said.
The lengthy article entitled “Patriotism: Sober and Wise” appeared to be an iron fist in a velvet glove. The author appealed to people’s nationalism, saying the government was doing all it could to peacefully engage Beijing to settle the maritime territorial disputes.
But at the same time, the article said the government and police wouldn’t stand by and watch the peaceful demonstrations be hijacked by increasing foreign influences trying to divide the nation and turn it against the ruling Communist Party.
Vietnam must enlist the help of the international community to back its claim to maritime areas under 1982 U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, the author said.
The article also noted the government was monitoring blog sites that have turned aggressive in nature and attacked the resolve of the Communist Party to settle the dispute with Beijing.
The article acknowledged what it called Chinese “infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam” within its maritime continental shelf areas and “exclusive economic zones.”
Specific mention was made of the May 26 incident when Hanoi claimed a Chinese fishing boat, later joined by two Chinese maritime surveillance ships, intentionally cut a cable being towed by Viking II, a Vietnamese seismic survey ship operating well within Vietnam’s 200-mile economic maritime zone.
The Chinese vessel became entangled in cables and Viking II, operated by the national Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group, stopped operating and fired off a warning flare. The Chinese vessel was eventually freed with help from the two other Chinese vessels.
A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called the Chinese actions “absolutely intentional, well-designed and well-prepared.”
But tensions have been rising generally among all claimants to numerous island groupings in the South China Sea since the beginning of the year.
Ownership is important because of suspected oil and gas resources on the seabed, as well as access to plentiful fish stocks.
A major dispute is control of the Spratly Islands. Apart from China and Vietnam, the Spratly Islands, or some of them, are claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Other disputed islands are the Scarborough Shoal off the west coast of the Philippines and the Paracels, the most northerly group of islands and the ones closest to China.
In March, the Philippines officially complained to China that Chinese patrol boats allegedly harassed a Philippines oil exploration vessel in disputed waters near the Spratlys.
All countries are aware of a growing Chinese military maritime presence.
In early May China said it will beef up marine patrols by at least 10 percent in the face of what it claimed were increasing incursions into its territorial waters. By the end of the year, around 1,000 recruits will be added to the 9,000 already employed by China’s marine service, Beijing said.
Fears of a tougher Chinese military presence in the South China Sea were heightened this month because of the sea trials of Beijing’s first aircraft carrier — albeit an apparently obsolete vessel bought half-finished from the Ukraine in 1998. It was launched in the late 1980s, never fitted out and was sold without weapons and engines.
Analysts have questioned its usefulness, given its age, and Beijing claimed it is for training and defensive purposes only and none of its neighbors need fear its presence in seas around China.