A senior Chinese military leader has blamed both Hanoi and Washington for the bloody protests in Vietnam over Beijing’s deployment of an oil rig in waters claimed by both China and Vietnam.
The problem is not the oil rig but the rioting in Vietnam that arose from protests over the rig’s presence, Gen. Fang Fenghui said May 15 through an interpreter during a joint news conference with U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Pentagon in Washington.
“I think it's quite clear ... who is conducting normal activity and who is disrupting it,” Fang said.
Fang, chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, also pointed to U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit to East Asia during which he sought to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Fang said the visit appears to have emboldened other Asian nations to cause trouble with China.
Both China and Vietnam have established exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in waters off their coastlines along the South China Sea. China’s, however, extends much farther into the sea, and the two zones overlap.
China historically has claimed virtually the entire South China Sea, despite competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Despite these claims, Fang indicated that China would not back down. “Territory which has passed down by our ancestors into the hands of our generation. We cannot afford to lose an inch,” he said.
During the news conference, Dempsey was careful not to express explicit criticism of China, but he did raise concern about the tensions between Beijing and Hanoi. The Joint Chiefs chairman was asked if there was a risk of military conflict in the area, and he replied simply that he and Fang “spoke about the fact that the use of military assets to resolve disputes is provocative and it does increase risk.”
U.S. officials have been united in their assessment of China’s deployment of the oilrig. “Provocative” was the adjective of choice from Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as Dempsey.
In fact, Kerry told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a telephone call the deployment was not only "provocative" but also "aggressive," according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry said Wang replied that Kerry should “speak and act cautiously” and limit his comments to objective facts, not opinions.
The unrest in Vietnam has escalated in the past few days. The riots, which began on May 13, have spread from southern Vietnam to regions in the center of the country. On May 15, at least 21 people were killed and nearly 100 were injured as rioters set fires at factories, hunted down Chinese workers and attacked police.
An estimated 1,000 Vietnamese protesters set fire to a large Taiwanese steel mill in the central province of Ha Tinh, sending its Chinese workers fleeing, according to Huang Chih-peng, a Taiwanese diplomat. Huang blamed the province’s political and security leaders, who witnessed the attack, for not using enough force to prevent the violence.
An unidentified doctor at a hospital in Ha Tinh said five Vietnamese workers at the factory and 16 others identified as Chinese were killed in the attack.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com