Vietnam says China's South China Sea oil bid "illegal"

The guided missile destroyer USS Chaffee (R) is seen anchored off Tien Sa port in the central city of Danang on April 24, 2012. US and Vietnamese sailors have been holding five-day 'non-combatant' naval exchange activities in the port city of Danang admid rising tensions in the South China Sea with China.</p>

The guided missile destroyer USS Chaffee (R) is seen anchored off Tien Sa port in the central city of Danang on April 24, 2012. US and Vietnamese sailors have been holding five-day 'non-combatant' naval exchange activities in the port city of Danang admid rising tensions in the South China Sea with China.

Vietnam has called plans by China to invite foreign oil firms to tender for exploration rights in a disputed area in the South China Sea “illegal” and a serious “violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty.”

The spat is the latest escalation in a worsening territorial dispute over the resource-rich sea, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

According to the BBC, the row began on Saturday when the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) announced that a new batch of nine offshore exploration blocks “in waters under jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China” were open to foreign bids.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the blocks in question lay “deep inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone,” while its state-owned oil firm, PetroVietnam, called on foreign companies to boycott the invitation to tender, the BBC reported.

Hanoi has said the territory being offered by China includes blocks that it has already licenced to US firm ExxonMobil and Russia’s Gazprom, according to The Financial Times.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, the latest conflict comes a week after the Vietnamese parliament in Hanoi passed new legislation underscoring Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Spratlys and Paracels archipelagos, which lie in the South China Sea.

Beijing summoned Vietnam’s ambassador to China in order to protest the move, which will come into force in 2013. According to the Agence France Presse, China claims that it enjoys sovereign rights to the entire South China Sea, which is believed to contain large deposits of oil and natural gas. 

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