A survey vessel from Beijing has been spotted gliding through parts of the disputed waters causing further outrage from Vietnam and inflamed aggression. Vietnam said the ship left the area last week, but had returned again yesterday in a move that came after a month-long standoff between Beijing and Hanoi. The US-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) confirmed the vessel was still there today.
To make matters worse, the ship was accompanied by at least two Chinese coastguard vessels, resembling more of a fleet.
This prompted several Vietnamese ships to follow them closely.
Last month Chinese geological survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 entered waters surrounding the Spratly Islands, of which have been claimed by Vietnam.
The ship remained there for several weeks along with a number of coastguard ships.
Devin Thorne, C4ADS senior analyst, said Beijing’s operations in the hotly disputed waters “reflect China’s purposeful use of civilian, commercial, scientific and paramilitary resources to pursue its interests in and vision for the South China Sea”.
US President Donald Trump was quick to condemn the act.
His administration, who has often called out China on its aggression, lashed out on Beijing for its “bullying behaviour” in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the actions of the Chinese nothing short of “coercion”.
In response to Mr Duterte, Philippine vice president Leni Robredo has admitted that she fears the country is giving into China’s territorial gains in the region.
Ms Robredo said: “I understand why our new administration is more friendly to China, but I think there should be a clear line as far as protecting our territory and sovereignty.
“The president has made a lot of statements which gives a sense we are acquiescing to what China wants.”
Ms Robredo also added that “we might wake up one day and many of our territories are no longer ours”.
The vice president’s comments come as Mr Duterte recently claimed that the Philippines would be decimated if they tried to remove Chinese forces from the disputed zone.
Mr Duterte claimed: “When Chinese President Xi says ‘I will fish’, who can prevent him?”
“We have to temper it with the times and realities we face today.”
Adding to the tense scenario in the region, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recently accused Beijing of going against any intention to maintain peace.
Mr Lorenzana’s accusation comes after China took control of the Scarborough Shoal which lies 200km from the Philippine cost, according to South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Following a stand off with Philippine vessels, Beijing ignored a 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that found its actions violated Manila’s sovereign rights.