Tensions between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea waters off Vietnam’s coast rose higher when a Chinese vessel intentionally rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat. The Vietnamese boat was operating 17 nautical miles southwest of China’s HD-981 mega oil rig which was installed a few weeks ago, sparking a major bilateral dispute and protests in Vietnam.Carl Thayer, also writing at the Diplomat, discusses the options that Vietnam is considering. Primarily, these include closer military ties to the Philippines and the United States, including possible joint exercises in Vietnamese waters with the United States Coastguard and allowing U.S. surveillance aircraft to operate out of Vietnam. If tensions escalate to force:
According to Vietnamese state media, all crew members on board the fishing boat were rescued with no injuries. Xinhua, Chinese state media, meanwhile reported that, “a Vietnamese fishing boat capsized after harassing and colliding with a Chinese fishing boat in the South China Sea,” charging the Vietnamese fishing boat as the aggressor in the incident. It added that according to a Chinese government source, “the Chinese side has taken measures to stop Vietnamese interference and lodged serious representations to the Vietnamese side, asking them to immediately stop the disruptive activities.”
Vietnam’s second possible strategy of deterrence, “mutually assured destruction,” applies only to a situation where relations between China and Vietnam have deteriorated to the point of armed conflict. Vietnamese strategists argue that the aim of this strategy is not to defeat China but to inflict sufficient damage and psychological uncertainty to cause Lloyd’s insurance rates to skyrocket and for foreign investors to panic and take flight.China's strategy, meanwhile, is to slowly build pressure and cripple Vietnamese boats and ships. From Thayer's article:
Under this strategy, if armed conflict broke out, Vietnam would give priority to targeting Chinese flagged merchant shipping and oil containers ships operating in the southern extremity of the South China Sea. Vietnam currently possesses coastal ballistic missiles that are in range of China’s naval bases on Hainan and Woody islands.
Some Vietnamese strategists also argue that Vietnam should quickly acquire large numbers of ballistic missiles capable of striking Shanghai and even Hong Kong. In the event of armed conflict, these and other cities could be targeted to cause massive disruption to China’s economy. This would have a global impact. Vietnamese strategists expect that major powers would intervene to counter China’s aggression.
... China is engaged in an unequal “war of attrition” with Vietnam. China’s tactics of ramming Vietnamese vessels two to four times lighter in weight is designed to damage them sufficiently to require repair.
Some Vietnamese analysts speculate that if the current rate of damage continues, Vietnam may not have enough vessels to confront China in the waters surrounding the rig.
According to the Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of Vietnam’s Marine Policy (Coast Guard) Ngo Ngoc Thu, on May 3 China’s Coast Guard Ship No. 44044 smashed into the side of Vietnam Marine Police vessel No. 4033 leaving a crack three meters by 1 meter and completely damaging the vessel’s right engine. Thu gave details of other damage suffered by Vietnamese vessels.
Recent research by Scott Bentley has revealed that China is deliberately targeting the communications masts and antennae of Vietnamese vessels with its water cannons. YouTube clips clearly show these communications masts being forcibly blown off the bridges of Vietnamese vessels. This degrades their ability to communicate with other ships and thus forces them to return to port for repairs.
Further, China-Vietnam confrontations are deadly serious. According to Scott Bentley, most of China’s Coast Guard ships are now armed with naval guns. Both Chinese Coast Guard ships and People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates have manned their uncovered guns and deliberately targeted Vietnamese vessels during the current confrontation.