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China Protests Vietnamese Exploration in Spratlys

June 16, 1994

BEIJING (AP) _ China protested sharply today Vietnamese efforts to prospect for oil and natural gas in disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Beginning in May, Vietnam has been sending geological exploratory vessels to the Vanguard Bank area of the Spratly Islands archipelago off its southeastern coast, said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Shen Guofang.

″These moves have seriously violated China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands,″ he said. Nansha is China’s name for the Spratlys.

China, Vietnam and four other nations claim all or part of the Spratlys, a cluster of tiny reefs and islets that have no permanent inhabitants but are bristling with the armaments of the claimants.

The archipelago straddles important shipping lanes, but also is believed to sit atop valuable oil and gas deposits.

Chinese and Vietnamese warships briefly exchanged fire in the Spratlys in 1988. Since then, both have said they want a peaceful solution and China has suggested joint development.

China has conducted extensive geological surveys in the area. It has contracted with a U.S. company, Crestone Energy Corp., to explore and drill in a zone that includes the area where Shen said Vietnam was exploring.

Vietnam signed a contract in late April with Mobil Corp. to explore an area just to the west of that zone. Occidental Petroleum Corp. of the United States and APN Petroleum of Indonesia also have contracted with Vietnam to explore in the Spratlys.

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