A New Dispute Flares Over South China Sea

From The New York Times

By Jane Perlez

China and two of its neighbors, Vietnam and India, were locked in a new dispute on Tuesday over energy exploration in the South China Sea, a signal that Beijing plans to continue its hard line in the increasingly contentious waterway.

Vietnam accused a Chinese fishing boat of cutting a seismic cable attached to one of its vessels exploring for oil and gas near the Gulf of Tonkin, an act apparently designed to inhibit Vietnam from pursuing energy deposits.

In retaliation, Vietnam said Tuesday that it would launch new patrols, which would include marine police, to guard against increasing encroachment by Chinese fishing boats in the South China Sea. India, which operates several joint ventures with Vietnam’s national energy company, Petro Vietnam, said it would consider sending Navy vessels to protect its interests in the South China Sea.

The latest episode follows an announcement by Hainan Province in southern China last week that Chinese vessels would board and search ships in contested areas of the waterway, which includes vital shipping lanes through which more than a third of global trade moves.

The new tensions among China, Vietnam and India illustrate in stark terms the competition in the South China Sea for what are believed to be sizable deposits of oil and gas.

Some energy experts in China see the sea as an important new energy frontier close to home that could make China less dependent on its huge oil imports from the Middle East.

On Monday, China’s National Energy Administration named the South China Sea as the main offshore site for natural gas production. Within two years, China aims to produce 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas fields in the sea, a significant increase from the 20 billion cubic meters produced so far, the agency said.

Earlier this year, China’s third-largest energy company, state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company, launched new equipment that would allow China to drill in deep water for the first time. Since then, CNOOC, has been drilling with a rig in deep water in non-disputed waters off the southern coast of China.

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