Thursday, 17 Oct 2019
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US companies should be free to operate in South China Sea: State Dept. Official

Updated at Tuesday, 01 Oct 2019, 06:54
The Hanoitimes - The US administration has been vocal in protesting China`s bullying tactics against Vietnam`s longstanding oil and gas activities in the South China Sea.
US companies should be free to operate in the South China Sea (SCS) and the US government will continue to uphold freedom of navigation in that important international waterway with “words and deeds”, a US State Department official has said.
 
Kent Logsdon, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Energy Resources, US Department of State. Photo: Minh Tuan
Kent Logsdon, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Energy Resources, US Department of State. Photo: Minh Tuan
“Our statements have been very clear and speak for themselves. Freedom of navigation is a very important principle. In the SCS we continue to uphold that principle,” Kent Logsdon, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Energy Resources, US Department of State, told Hanoitimes in a private interview.

“We have certainly been very clear of freedom of navigation and will continue to show our concern that the SCS be an international open waterway. US companies and other companies should be free to operate there. We continue to make that clear, both in words and in deeds,” he affirmed.

In early September, rumors emerged about US energy giant ExxonMobil’s withdrawal from Ca Voi Xanh (Blue Whale) – Vietnam’s largest offshore gas project off its coast which lies outside China’s vaguely claimed nine-dash line.

In response to reporters’ question on September 12, Spokesperson of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Le Thi Thu Hang said that oil and gas projects jointly conducted by state-owned energy firm Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) and America’s ExxonMobil are proceeding as scheduled.

PVN, PVEP and ExxonMobil signed agreement frameworks for project development and selling gas from the Ca Voi Xanh gas field in 2017.
Logsdon’s statement echoes voices recently raised by the US Departments of State and Defense against China’s growing aggression in the SCS.

Since early July, China deployed survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and armed escorts to Vietnam’s southern continental shelf and exclusive economic zone, infringing upon the 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of which both Vietnam and China are members.

The Chinese deployment has ignited objection from the US and prompted the European Union and Japan to expressed concerns over it.

The US Department of State on August 22 stated that China’s actions undermine regional peace and security, impose economic costs on Southeast Asian states by blocking their access to an estimated $2.5 trillion in unexploited hydrocarbon resources.

Similarly, the US Department of Defense on August 26 said it was greatly concerned by China’s coercive interference in Vietnam's longstanding oil and gas activities in the SCS.

“China’s actions stand in contrast to the United States’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms,” said the statement.

“The United States will continue to support efforts by our allies and partners to ensure freedom of navigation and economic opportunity throughout the entire Indo-Pacific,” the Pentagon noted.

Joint development

In the interview, Logsdon expressed his concerns over China’s recent proposals to jointly develop resources in the SCS.

“We’ve been very clear about the concerns about some of the models of development that China has offered to countries in the region, particularly in the SCS, some of the joint development models that require joint development companies from China be part of a local company. We find that troubling,” said Logsdon.
 
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte prior to their meeting during the Belt and Road forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. Photo: Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte prior to their meeting during the Belt and Road forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. Photo: Reuters
In a recent visit to China, Filipino President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed joint development of oil and gas resources in the SCS, a move indicating the two countries are “ignoring” the 2016 arbitral ruling that China has repeatedly refused to accept.

Meanwhile, China and Malaysia have agreed to set up a joint dialogue mechanism for the disputed SCS.

Malaysia had been critical of China’s SCS position, but has not been excessively outspoken recently, especially after China pumped in billions of dollars into infrastructure projects under its Belt and Road Initiative, according to Reuters.
Minh Tuan
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