Vietnam protests hawkish Chinese Web postings

Chinese officials have confirmed that plans posted online for an invasion of Vietnam do not reflect Beijing's official position. But the postings are heightening tensions at a time when China seeks to gain control of oil-rich regions in the South China Sea.

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The Hanoi government has complained to Beijing about postings on Chinese websites that detail plans for an invasion of Vietnam. Chinese officials have dismissed the posts as the ramblings of a hypernationalist minority. But the diplomatic flare-up is seen as an indication of rising tensions between the two nations over the potentially oil-rich South China Sea. There, China has been pressuring Western oil firms to cancel joint exploration projects with Vietnam in waters that Beijing also claims.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that the invasion plans have been posted on the popular Chinese web portal Sina.com and at least three other websites. Analysts interviewed by the SCMP characterized the posted "invasion plans" as the work of kooks, with little military value.

 
The supposed plans detail a 31-day invasion, starting with five days of missile strikes from land, sea and air and climaxing in an invasion involving 310,000 troops sweeping into Vietnam from Yunnan, Guangxi and the South China Sea. The electronic jamming of Vietnamese command and communications centers is mentioned, along with the blocking of sea lanes in the South China Sea....
 
"Vietnam is the strategic hub of the whole of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has to be conquered first if Southeast Asia is to be under [China's] control again," the plans say. "From all perspectives Vietnam is a piece of bone hard to be swallowed."

The SCMP added that Vietnamese officials were baffled that the postings remained online after they registered their complaints, since Beijing can easily block any Web content that has been brought to its attention.

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The Straits Times, a Singapore daily, reported that Chinese officials have assured Vietnam that the postings do not reflect Beijing's official position.

The web postings come as China and Vietnam are squaring off over exploration projects in the South China Sea in areas that both claim. In July, Beijing had warned the American oil giant ExxonMobil to scrap an exploration deal with Vietnam, reported the World Tribune. The report suggested that Vietnam had a better case for its claim to potentially oil-rich fields off its coast. But China is flexing its growing political muscle by asserting its claim to nearly the entire South China Sea.

 
A Hong Kong newspaper says Beijing's diplomats have threatened retaliation if ExxonMobil goes ahead with a preliminary agreement with the Vietnamese state oil firm PetroVietnam. The deal covers exploitation in the South China Sea off Vietnam's south and central coasts, according to the Sunday Morning Post....
 
The Hong Kong newspaper quoted unidentified sources saying Exxon Mobil was confident of Vietnam's sovereign rights to the blocks it was now seeking to explore. But it is clear that ExxonMobil could not dismiss China's warnings out of hand given the rapidly increasing Chinese market for crude oil and oil products....
 
Last year, Chinese media targeted an agreement between Vietnam and BP near the Spratlys maintaining that those islands had been an "indisputable part of Chinese territory since ancient times." The Spratlys, like other island groups in the region, are uninhabited rocky outcroppings and coral but are in an area that may contain large oil and gas deposits.

Reuters reported that China and Vietnam are actually cooperating in oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam's north coast. But in waters further south, the two sides are at odds. The territorial dispute in southern waters led British oil giant BP to scotch its plans for exploration there.

Once united by their communist ideology, relations between Vietnam and China cooled in the 1970s, particularly when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978 to oust the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime. Partly in retaliation, China invaded Vietnam a few months later, as detailed by Global Security. The two sides fought a nasty one-month border war that left tens of thousands dead before Beijing retreated. Border clashes continued throughout the 1980s.

That history helps explain Vietnam's sensitivity to public "invasion plans" on Chinese websites, no matter how bogus they might be.

In the past two decades, relations have warmed as both countries moved ahead with pragmatic market reforms, despite several ongoing territorial disputes. In addition to the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, the countries are also battling for influence over neighboring, resource-rich Laos. A commentary in the Asia Times argued that Laos is likely to increasingly tilt toward China, despite the landlocked country's historically close ties to Vietnam.

 
Laos is of increasing strategic importance to both China and Vietnam, two of Asia's fastest growing countries. Vietnam's interests lie primarily in securing its long land border with Laos and developing greater access to markets in Thailand. For China, Laos provides a growing avenue to export products to wider Southeast Asia, particularly from its remote and less-developed, landlocked southwestern regions....
 
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