On July 7th, The Economist reported that Vietnam and China reignited a wave of nasty signals toward each other over oil rights in the waters surrounding a string of archipelagos in the South China Sea.
Until June 21st, the Spratly and Paracel islands enjoyed a momentary calm after China and the Phillipines shouldered off an impending skirmish. But the calm did not last long. Vietnam re-asserted its claims to the islands through a parliamentary decree, to which China responded vehemently, claiming that Vietnam had violated its sovereignty.
In turn, the Chinese government immediately upgraded the status of the municipality that governs the Spratly and Paracel islands, giving it more jurisdictional leverage. Worrying mounted again when CNOOC, a state-directed oil firm, declared that it was opening bids for drilling in a zone not too far offshore from the islands to which Vietnam lays claim.
The two countries have a wary eye on each other, but despite the boundary scuffle, neither country seems too keen to break diplomacy and act aggressively. Hilary Clinton is scheduled to visit Phnom Penh in mid-July to discuss security in the region with Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister. China does not want to tarnish its image with an act of mischief. But under the surface, back at home, China’s newspaper Global Times is less restrained, saying Vietnam should be punished for its advance on China’s sovereignty.