Updates on China's South China Sea drills close to Vietnam's coast
Big apologies because I couldn’t maintain this newsletter in the past three months due to some changes in my daily schedule.
In light of too many focuses on the war in Ukraine, I decided to continue my South China Sea Brief after 3-month hiatus.
Now, the newsletter is coming back regularly. It is mainly a free newsletter, but some exclusive content will be put behind a paywall. I hope it will help me pay for vessel tracking services and high-quality satellite images.
The accident of Y-8 MPA
on March 6, for the past few days, China has been actively searching for the Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft that lost contact in the South China Sea on March 1.
On March 8, China deployed another research ship – Tan Sou Yi Hao to join Tan Suo Er Hao at the exercise area. This morning, Tan Suo Er Hao returned to Sanya.
Coast Guard vessels 5901 and 5304 were still hovering in the area yesterday. Last night, the former returned to Sanya while another Coast Guard vessel 5401 moved to the site.
The coast guard and research ships were only moving slowly within small areas, suggesting they were on a searching mission. Dozens of other naval ships were also continuously patrolling this area.
Movements of coast guard and research vessels inside the exercise area.
The presence of these coast guard and research vessels shows that this is not a regular exercise.
Two research vessels Tan Suo Yi Hao and Tan Suo Er Hao were possibly deployed because they are specialized in seabed research and equipped with manned submersibles.
Responding to China's exercises, on March 7, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang "asked that China respect and avoid violating Viet Nam's EEZ and continental shelf, and not take any action that may complicate the situation".
A part of the area specified in this maritime notice lies within Viet Nam's Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf, as provided by the UNCLOS 1982.
Viet Nam asks that China respect and avoid violating Viet Nam's EEZ and continental shelf, and not take any action that may complicate the situation, thereby contributing to maintaining peace, security, and stability in the East Sea.
Viet Nam has discussed with China on this matter.
In response, on March 8, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated that "it is reasonable, lawful and irreproachable for China to conduct military exercises on its own doorstep".
According to coordinates provided by Hainan Maritime Safety Agency, the western edge of the exercise area seems to match the so-called "nine-dashed line".
So it appears that China still clings to the "nine-dashed line" despite the outright rejection by The Permanent Court of Arbitration and international community.
This move also shows that although some Chinese diplomats have begun to use the so-called "Four Shas" argument to justify the unreasonable and illegal maritime claims in the South China Sea, China has not yet moved away from the "nine-dashed line".
The first purpose of China in conducting the drill was to find the lost Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft in the waters southwest of Sanya and northeast of Da Nang.
But I reckon China has the other motives by declaring an exercises area that overlapped with Vietnam's EEZ. Normally, Beijing needs to notify and coordinate search and rescue operations. However, China did not act responsibly but blatantly declared the exercise area violating Vietnam's EEZ to search and rescue.
In my opinion, China may also want to send a signal to Vietnam before two upcoming events in U.S. - Vietnam relations.
One of the leaders of Vietnam is expected to visit the U.S. to attend the ASEAN - U.S. Summit at the end of this March, and a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier will probably visit Da Nang in the coming months.
Recent satellite images show that hundreds of China maritime vessels have returned to Union Banks in the Spratly Islands.
South of Hughes Reef
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