Vietnam's international strategy is shifting in a dramatic fashion. For years, the country hoped that it could manage China’s drive for regional hegemony by showing Beijing sufficient deference. To that end, officials in Hanoi worked to cultivate ties with their Chinese counterparts and pursued friendships with all countries, Vietnam’s ASEAN neighbors especially, but alliances with none.
But that strategy has been upended in recent months. In May, China deployed a $1 billion oil drilling rig and more than 100 ships to locations only 130 nautical miles off of Vietnam's central coast, well within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) -- the maritime area extending 200 nautical miles from a country’s shores over which it has special exploration and resource exploitation rights. Hanoi responded with a total of 30 diplomatic overtures to Beijing; China rejected all of them, refusing even to receive the secretary-general of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong. When Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi came to Hanoi on June 18, it wasn’t to apologize but, rather, to upbraid the Vietnamese for their own behavior -- that is, for their protests against the oil rig and for allowing anti-Chinese demonstrations to get out of hand. Chinese media portrayed Yang as giving Vietnam a chance “to rein itself in before it's too late.”
China's deployment of the deep sea rig should not have been a surprise. At least since 2009, Beijing has aimed to achieve de facto hegemony over the South China Sea, and Vietnam's offshore oil sector has been a prime target. Beijing's threats induced oil multinationals BP and ConocoPhillips, both heavily invested in China, to abandon concessions in Vietnamese waters in 2009 and 2012 respectively. In 2011, Chinese vessels harassed survey ships belonging to the Vietnamese oil company PetroVietnam. In 2012, China's Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) invited foreign companies to bid for the rights to explore nine blocks of territory overlapping Vietnam's EEZ.
At the end of July, Vietnam was awash with rumors that the country’s Politburo had voted 9–5 in favor of “standing up
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