Vietnam has a smart strategy to stop China from taking over the entire South China Sea, teaming up with a power Beijing cannot afford to antagonize these days: Russia.
China considers the South China Sea its own sea, and it has been doing whatever it takes to advance this mission. Like the building of artificial islands, in violation of international tribunal rulings – including one favoring the Philippines. And like intimidating its neighbors by sailing its vessels in disputed waters.
While the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte isn’t prepared to stop Beijing, Vietnam – which also claims parts of the waterway – seems to be.
So far, Vietnam has been trying to stop China in a brave way, deploying its forces to confront Chinese vessels that enter its waters.
Then there’s Hanoi’s push for a pact that will outlaw many of China’s ongoing activities in the South China Sea including building of artificial islands, blockades, deployment of offensive weaponry like missiles, and a conduct code China initiated back in 2013 calledthe Air Defense Identification Zone.
And there are Vietnam’s efforts to challenge China by drilling for oil in areas of the sea delineated by China’s “nine-dash line,” a vague self-defined borderline in which Beijing lays claim to virtually all of the sea. The trouble with this particular effort is that Hanoi has picked up weak partners for its drilling operations, like the Indian oil company ONGC Videshand the Spanish Repsol. Both companies had to abandon its partnership with Hanoi after pressure from Beijing.
Now, Vietnam is beginning to fight Beijing by teaming up with the Russian oil giant Rosneft. That’s according to a recent article posted in Foreign Policy by Bennett Murray.
“This time, a much tougher partner is involved: Rosneft, whose primary shareholder is the Russian government,” writes Murray. “Gazprom also operates nearby, as does Zarubezhneft, a wholly Russian state-owned firm founded in 1967 whose local Vietsovpetro joint venture with PetroVietnam is all that is left of the Soviet Union’s once mighty overseas fossil fuel ventures.”
The presence of Russia in disputed waters could be a game-changer for Vietnam. It will be extremely difficult for Beijing to confront the Russian navy, ready to defend the interests of Moscow in the region. And that could trim China’s South China Sea ambitions, and save peace in the region.
Perhaps the Philippines should learn a lesson or two from Vietnam in developing its own strategy to stop China.
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