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Chinese ship approaches the coast of Vietnam amid tension in the South China Sea

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — A Chinese exploration ship expanded its activities on Saturday to reach an area closer to the coast of Vietnam after the United States and Australia expressed concern about China’s actions in disputed waterways, ship tracking data showed.

The Haiyang Dichy 8 entered Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone for the first time early last month, starting a weeks-long seismic survey, triggering a tense standoff between army and coastguard vessels from both sides.

The Chinese ship continued to survey Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone on Saturday, accompanied by at least four ships, about 102 km southeast of Vietnam’s Phu Qui Island and 185 km from the shores of the city of Phan, according to data from the website Maritime Traffic, which tracks ship movements.

The data showed that at least two Vietnamese naval vessels were following the movements of the Chinese ship group.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone extends up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers or 230 miles) from its coast under an international treaty, and Vietnam has sovereign rights to exploit any natural resources within that region.

Vietnam and China have been at odds for years over a potentially water-rich area and a shipping lane through which many ships cross the South China Sea.

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