With the Olympics behind now, China has begun flexing its muscles to brow beat its neighbors to fall in line or face the music. Serious concerns have been expressed, especially by Vietnam, over the recent intense activities of the Chinese Navy in and around the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea.
Chinese naval vessels have adopted threatening postures to mount pressure against Vietnamese oil exploration activities in and around the disputed islands for alleged violation of Chinese territorial waters. The Vietnamese Government, however, held that oil exploration was undertaken within their continental shelf and the EEZ. Exxon Mobil, which entered into a joint exploration agreement with PetroVietnam, had been forced to terminate their activity around Spratly islands following Chinese threats.
A Norwegian ship, hired by Vietnam, for oil exploration was intercepted by the Chinese naval ships and threatened to fire unless it leaves the disputed area in the South China sea region.
Vietnamese authorities, however, contended that the exploration is being carried out within their EEZ and China had no reason to launch such threats. They have launched strenuous diplomatic efforts to convince the Chinese of their claims. The matter was also discussed during the recent visit of Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, and the latter assured the Vietnamese authorities of the US support.
Taking advantage of the 7th Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) on October 24-25 in Beijing, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, arrived in the Chinese capital a day before the summit to discuss the issue with the Chinese leaders.
The Vietnamese have complained that the Chinese fishing, oil exploration and Coast Guard vessels continue to intrude into Vietnamese territorial waters. Even in Tonkin Gulf area, where Vietnam and China had reached an agreement in the year 2000 on the territorial waters, the situation became tense a couple of months ago when Chinese vessels intruded into Vietnamese waters for oil exploration. The Chinese vessels left the area only after they were challenged by the Vietnamese Navy. In order to step up its military presence in the South China Sea, China is also contemplating to deploy JIN Class 094 nuclear submarine and Shang Class submarine this month.
China-sponsored websites have also been carrying extremely objectionable anti-Vietnamese articles, including a reported defence strategy to attack Vietnam and occupy it through military means.
China's threatening military postures may be an early indication of reversal of its foreign policy toward its neighbours. After its mis-guided adventure on Vietnam in 1972 and other minor conflicts with rest of the neighbors in South East Asia, Jiang Zemin's regime realised the need for a better image for quick economic development and launched a policy of `Good Neibourly relations' in 1989-90. China's approval of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea in November 2002 at the 8th ASEAN Summit in Cambodia and its Joint Declaration at the Bali ASEAN Summit in October 2003 helped in creating a positive atmosphere on the issue of disputed islands and improving its relations with neighbors.
Having reached its zenith in economic growth with a massive $ 2 Trillion foreign exchange reserve cushion and all other economic powers slipped to a recession, hardliners in the Chinese Communist Party may now be pushing for a hardline for a military solution to regional disputes including that of Taiwan.