* Vietnam spokesman calls on China to stop "wrongful acts"
* Petrovietnam says seismic cable cut, accuses Chinese boats
* India says it will protect its maritime and economic
* South China Sea tensions escalate as China flexes muscles
HANOI/NEW DELHI, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Vietnam condemned on
Tuesday China's claims to disputed South China Sea islands as a
serious violation of its sovereignty after saying it was setting
up patrols to protect its fisheries and accusing Chinese boats
The condemnation of China's claims to the sea and its
numerous reefs and tiny islands was the strongest yet from
Vietnam since tension flared this year and came after India
declared itself ready to send navy ships to safeguard its
interests in the disputed waters.
Claims by an increasingly powerful China over most of the
South China Sea have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam
and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also
claim parts of the mineral-rich waters.
Vietnam's condemnation came a day after its state oil and
gas company, Petrovietnam, accused Chinese boats of sabotaging
an exploration operation by cutting a seismic cable being towed
behind a Vietnamese boat.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the cable
cutting as well as some recent Chinese provincial regulations
that identified the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands as
Chinese, and a map that did the same thing.
"The actions of the Chinese side have seriously violated
Vietnam's sovereignty over the two archipelagos," the spokesman,
Luong Thanh Nghi, said in a statement.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry officials met representatives of
the Chinese embassy in Hanoi on Monday, Nghi said.
The Vietnamese officials handed over a diplomatic note
"resolutely opposing the above mentioned actions by the Chinese
side, asking China to respect Vietnam's sovereignty, to
immediately stop such wrongful acts and not to repeat similar
Earlier, Vietnam said civilian-led patrols, backed by marine
police and a border force, would be deployed from Jan. 25 to
stop foreign vessels violating fishing laws in Vietnam's waters.
A decree on the Vietnamese patrols was signed on Nov. 29,
the day Chinese media announced new rules authorising police in
the southern Chinese province of Hainan to board and seize
foreign ships in the South China Sea.
"It's going to lead to friction," Carl Thayer, a Southeast
Asia security expert at the University of New South Wales in
Australia, said of China's new rules that take effect from Jan.
1 on boarding ships which "illegally enter" waters it claims.
"If it begins to assert these rights and isn't challenged,
over time it becomes customary, it becomes practice."
On Monday, Petrovietnam said the seismic vessel had been
operating outside the Gulf of Tonkin when the cable was severed
on Friday. It had earlier been surveying the Nam Con Son basin
further south - an area where Indian state-run explorer Oil and
Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has a stake in a Vietnamese gas field.
Petrovietnam posted on its website comments by the deputy
head of exploration, Pham Viet Dung, in which he said the cable
was repaired and the survey resumed the following day.
"The blatant violation of Vietnamese waters by Chinese
fishing vessels not only violates the sovereignty ... of Vietnam
but also interferes in the normal operations of Vietnamese
fishermen and affects the maritime activities of Petrovietnam,"
Dung was quoted as saying.
Asked about the complaint, Chinese Foreign Ministry
spokesman Hong Lei told a briefing in Beijing that China was
checking the reports of the incident, which he said was
understood to have taken place in an area of overlapping claims.
"Chinese fishing boats were operating in normal fishing
activities," Hong said.
India has also declared itself ready to deploy naval vessels
to the South China Sea to protect its oil-exploration interests
there, a new source of tension in a disputed area where fears of
conflict have been growing steadily.
Indian navy chief, Admiral D.K Joshi, said on Monday that,
while India was not a territorial claimant in the South China
Sea, it was prepared to act, if necessary, to protect its
maritime and economic interests in the region.
"When the requirement is there, for example, in situations
where our country's interests are involved, for example ONGC ...
we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that,"
Joshi told a news conference.
"Now, are we preparing for it? Are we having exercises of
that nature? The short answer is yes," he said.
An Indian government spokesman on Tuesday played down the
comments: "This is an issue for the parties concerned to
India is not the only non-claimant nation concerned about
disruption to shipping or oil exploration in the South China
Sea. The United States, a close ally to several of the Southeast
Asian claimants, has also voiced concern at the prospect of
China stopping international ships in contested waters.
India has sparred diplomatically with China in the past over
its gas and oil exploration block off the coast of Vietnam.
Any display of naval assertiveness by India in the South
China Sea would likely fuel concern that the navies of the two
rapidly growing Asian giants could be on a collision course as
they seek to protect trade routes and lock in the supply of
coal, minerals and other raw material from foreign sources.
Joshi described the modernisation of China's navy as
"truly impressive" and a source of major concern for India.
Asked what China would do if Indian navy entered the South
China Sea to protect its oil interests, the Chinese Foreign
Ministry spokesman, Hong, said China had "indisputable
sovereignty" over the sea's islands and surrounding waters.
"China opposes unilateral oil and gas development in
disputed waters of the South China Sea. We hope that concerned
countries respect China's position and rights, and respect
efforts made through bilateral talks to resolve disputes."
Singapore, home to the world's second-busiest container
port, joined the Philippines on Monday in expressing concern at
the prospect of Chinese police boarding ships. The Philippines
on Saturday condemned the Chinese plan as illegal.
Estimates for proven and undiscovered oil reserves in the
South China Sea range as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the
U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a 2008 report.
That would surpass the proven oil reserves of every country
except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP
On Monday, China's National Energy Administration said China
aims to produce 15 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year
from the South China Sea by 2015.
It said the sea would "form the main part" of China's
offshore gas exploration plans.