One of the consequences of today’s crisis in Eastern Europe is the escalation of anxieties elsewhere in the world. The situation in Ukraine has reverberated at least two ways in faraway Vietnam: (1) disrupting economic stability, and (2) raising the spectre of armed conflict in Southeast Asia.
Vietnam’s stock market, world’s best performing in the first part of 2014, has been in a nosedive since the Ukraine crisis. That’s partly because of conflicting views within Vietnam’s ruling party about economic health of the country; but it also reflects concern about both fragile export markets in Europe and the reliability of Russia as a long-time economic and diplomatic ally.
Meanwhile, people who have been watching developments in the South China Sea are wondering if Vietnam is on a path to become China’s Ukraine. That’s not surprising considering the centuries of Chinese aggression toward its southern neighbor.
The latest Chinese assertiveness is its construction of an oil and gas exploration rig near the Vietnamese coast in South China (or East) Sea territory claimed by both nations. State-owned PetroVietnam asked China National Offshore Oil Corp. to remove the rig — situated 120 miles East of the Vietnamese coast and within what Vietnam considers its exclusive economic zone. China responded by repeatedly ramming Vietnamese military boats.
Until now, conflict between China and Vietnam in the sea has been limited mostly to verbal sparring over who owns the Paracel and Spratly Islands, and Chinese harassment of Vietnamese fishing fleets.
The latest dispute highlights the increasing potential for military aggression in Vietnam’s East Sea, as Southeast Asia worries about parallels between Eastern Europe and its own region of 600 million people.