What’s Behind China and Vietnam’s Latest Standoff in the South China Sea?

What’s Behind China and Vietnam’s Latest Standoff in the South China Sea?
A Chinese Coast Guard ship is seen west of the Philippines, in the South China Sea, May 14, 2019 (Philippine Coast Guard photo via AP Images).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curates the week’s top news and expert analysis on China.

Since early July, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels have been engaged in a tense standoff over natural gas resources in waters off the coast of southern Vietnam. The ongoing confrontation is just one incident in a pattern of increasingly assertive Chinese behavior in the South China Sea, and while no shots have been fired so far, it could provoke anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam.

The South China Morning Post reported on July 12 that six “heavily armed” coast guard vessels—two Chinese and four Vietnamese—had been shadowing each other and conducting patrols in close proximity around Vanguard Bank, a reef that sits within what Hanoi claims as its exclusive economic zone. Vietnam has dozens of oil rigs operating in the area, which is known for its rich oil and gas reserves. China claims the Vanguard Bank basin falls within its “nine-dash line”—a line used to demarcate its claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea.

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