Monday, July 27, 2020

China pressurises Vietnam to cancel, compensate offshore firms operating in South China Sea

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Washington DC [USA], July 27 (ANI): Amid the growing Chinese movement in the South China Sea, Vietnam has agreed to pay around a billion dollars to two international companies after cancelling their drill operations following pressure from Beijing, The Diplomat reported.

To maintain its presence in the South China Sea region, China, for several years, continued its efforts to prevent the Vietnam-based companies developing oil and gas resources in the area.

Citing a well-placed oil industry source, Bill Hayton, author of the article, said, "Vietnam's state-owned energy company PetroVietnam will pay the money to Repsol of Spain and Mubadala of the United Arab Emirates in 'termination' and 'compensation' arrangements."

Meanwhile, Russian energy company Rosneft has been forced to suspend its plans for drilling offshore even as China Coast Guard vessels continue operating in the area where the drilling was supposed to place.

In another instance, a drilling rig standing in the Vietnamese port of Vung Tau for two months has been stood down. "Its owners, Noble Corporation, noted that the contract "includes a termination payment. This is likely to cost Vietnam several million dollars more," the author said.

Similarly, Repsol, once one of the largest players in Vietnam's offshore industry and owning rights in 13 blocks of the seabed, had to cancel its planned exploration drill in July 2017 and again on March 2018.

Hayton said, "With minimal interests in China, Repsol appeared ready to withstand political pressure from Beijing. Two of its best development prospects were particularly bold: located at the far edge of Vietnam's claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and well within the U-shaped, nine-dashed line drawn on Chinese maps since 1948..."

Repsol executives were reportedly informed that the cancellations were a political decision, ordered by top Vietnamese leadership, following extreme pressure from China, Hayton said.

The author said, "China had assembled a flotilla of 40 naval ships off the coast of Hainan Island, about two days' sailing from the drill site, and it appeared to be ready for confrontation."

As compensation for the investments made by Repsol and Mudabala, Vietnam is paying USD 800 million for their rights in the blocks and a further USD 200 million, Hayton quoted a regional oil industry source with knowledge of the settlement as saying.

"This will be a billion dollars that PetroVietnam would otherwise have paid into the Vietnamese government's budget."

As China's pressure on Vietnam continues, recently, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said, "The United States rejects any PRC maritime claim in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), waters in Brunei's EEZ, and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia). Any PRC action to harass other states' fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters - or to carry out such activities unilaterally - is unlawful."

Extending help to Vietnam on the matter, he said, "America stands with our South-East Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law." (ANI)

Russia-US talks on space security, arms control to start on Monday

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Washington DC [USA], July 27 (Sputnik/ANI): Russia and the United States will start expert-level talks in Vienna on Monday to discuss space security, nuclear doctrine and potential, as well as transparency and verification.

The first day of the meetings will focus on space.

Last week, the US expressed hope that the space dialogue with Russia will strengthen bilateral understanding of each other's policies and prevent any potential escalation.

US Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford said that the two could benefit from having a communications channel to address concerns over space activity.

At the same time, he slammed Russia for "hypocritical advocacy" of outer space arms control over its alleged testing of an anti-satellite weapon.

Slur of space weaponisation accusations

The US Space Command stated on Wednesday to have evidence that Russia conducted a "non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon" on July 15. The command argued that the activities in question looked inconsistent with the mission of an inspector satellite.

The Russian Foreign Ministry fired back by saying that "the testing did not pose any threat to other space objects and, most importantly, did not violate any norms and principles of the international law".

According to the ministry, a Russian inspector satellite simply inspected another Russian spacecraft at close range, using special equipment for this purpose.

Moscow has denounced the US' claims as a campaign to discredit Russia's space demilitarisation initiatives, justify its own actions to weaponise space and get additional funding to this end.

Ahead of the space security talks, Ford himself rejected Russia's and China's space arms control initiatives as "bad ideas". According to the official, the two "attempt to approach the space domain in a sort of traditional and reflexive arms control sort of way of defining a space weapon then purporting to ban it".

Ford argued the challenge of such initiatives is that it is "virtually impossible" to adequately define what a space weapon is and then verify compliance with this rule. Another aspect, he added, is that the proposals have failed to address earth-based anti-satellite weapons.

The US, Ford insists, hopes to "pursue good ideas" to work out standards of predictable and safe behaviour in space.

Nuclear arms control

The next three days of the Vienna talks will be devoted to nuclear issues.

Moscow offers to extend the New START treaty, the last major arms control agreement between Russia and the United States, which is set to expire in February 2021.

The US continues pushing for trilateral arms control. China, which has a much smaller nuclear arsenal, has repeatedly firmly rejected the idea of joining the process.

Following strategic nuclear talks in Vienna in June, Russian deputy foreign minister in charge of non-proliferation, Sergey Ryabkov, said he did not feel that the US was ready to extend New START treaty.

This time, the Russian delegation will be led by Vladimir Leontiev, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, a diplomatic source told Sputnik.

The US team will be comprised of representatives from the Departments of State, Defense and Energy, as well as the National Security Council. (Sputnik/ANI)

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