China again ignored Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on Friday, deploying a research vessel along with five escort vessels to an area where a state-owned Russian company co-operates a gas block in the energy-rich South China Sea with Hanoi.
The move is Beijing’s latest escalating move in the region after it first sent the research vessel along with at least one Chinese coastguard vessel and nearly a dozen other vessels earlier this month, Reuters reported.
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The research vessel, Xiang Yang Hong 10, crossed a gas block known as 04-03 on Friday that is operated by Vietsovpetr, a joint venture between the Russian company Zarubezhneft and PetroVietnam.
The news comes a day after Vietnam called on the Chinese ship to leave the Spratly Islands area after it first entered the region on May 7.
China has attempted to claim sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, recently ramping up its aggressive stance against neighboring countries with jurisdictional rights in the expanse of water, such as the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam.
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Vietnam issued a rare public statement on Thursday demanding the Chinese ships leave the area after crossing Block 129, which is also operated by Vietgazprom.
Chinese spokesman Mao Ning responded to questions from reporters on Friday after the statement, saying Beijing had sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and jurisdiction over adjacent waters.
“China’s relevant ships are conducting normal activities under China’s jurisdiction. It is legitimate and lawful,” she claimed. “There is no problem entering other countries’ exclusive economic zones.”
International ships are allowed to traverse other countries’ exclusive economic zones as they are not direct territories of any specific sovereign, although nations do have jurisdictional rights under international law over those areas which grant them special rights with respect to exploration, use of marine resources and energy production .
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Ray Powell, who directs Stanford University’s Project Myoushu on the South China Sea, described the blatant disregard for Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone as the most significant invasion in the region since 2019 and a “worrying escalation.”
Reuters contributed to this report.