|DEXING, CHINA. Elementary school students link arms to form the Communist|
Party flag of China for the party's 90th anniversary on July 1st
China's state-controlled media are warning Vietnam that Beijing will "take whatever measures necessary," including military action, to protect its interests in the South China Sea.
The Chinese navy conducted three days of exercises — including live fire drills — in the disputed waters of the South China Sea this week, escalating tensions over a potentially resource-rich area also claimed by some neighboring countries in Southeast Asia says the Los Angeles Times.
The display of naval might hundreds of miles from China's southernmost border was widely seen as a warning to Vietnam, which this week conducted its own live fire drills near the Spratly Islands. Several countries claim sovereignty over the string of uninhabited volcanic rocks, which are ringed by jagged reefs and crusted with bird droppings but rendered attractive by virtue of the surrounding waters that are fertile fishing grounds and may cover significant reserves of oil and natural gas.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all claim jurisdiction over some of the territory. But China contends its sovereignty dates from ancient national maps that show the islands to be an integral part of its territory.
On Friday, state television showed video of Chinese patrol boats firing repeated rounds at a target on what looked like an uninhabited island, as twin fighter jets streaked in tandem overhead. The report said 14 vessels participated in the maneuvers, staging antisubmarine and beach landing drills aimed at "defending atolls and protecting sea lanes.''
|Vietnamese sailors patrol one of the Spratly Islands. The country's recent military |
exercises near the disputed archipelago were answered this week by the Chinese navy.
China has pressed its claim to the outcrops in the South China Sea more assertively in the last two years. Chinese civilian vessels have increasingly confronted fishing and oil-exploration ships from other countries operating in those waters.
The Vietnamese government is under pressure from its own intensely nationalist media and its citizenry to stand up to China. The sea skirmish in May sparked an anti-Chinese outpouring in Vietnam, and the government has permitted rare public demonstrations to allow a mostly youthful crowd to vent anger.
Social media are also fueling anti-Chinese sentiments, including an online petition to change the name of the South China Sea to the Southeast Asia Sea.
"Vietnam has always been in a bad position to have such a large and powerful neighbor as China, but we are also angry that the Vietnamese government takes such a subservient attitude toward China," said Thuc Vy Huynh, a 27-year-old activist and blogger.
Chinese officials say they are merely protecting their national economic interests.
"We cannot avoid dealing with this issue. The Vietnamese are collecting gas and encroaching on our territory," said Xu Guangyu, a retired Chinese military officer and analyst with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Assn.
As China adopts a more forceful posture in its international relations, nervous neighbors have become more receptive to U.S. involvement, pushing countries like Vietnam to seek an American counterweight to Chinese power.
For more on this story