The flashpoint has erupted after Malaysia explored waters outside its economic exclusion zone, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), leaving China and Vietnam livid. For the past three weeks the countries have been wrestling for control as part of the wider battle for oil rich waters in the region. But the new clash has been sparked by a British drillship – the West Capella – deployed by Malaysia to an area which lies within the Malaysia-Vietnam Joint Defined Area (JDA) as well as China’s Nine-Dash Line.

Some of these oil fields are located within the Malaysia-Vietnam joint defined area, and the exploration effort has provoked fury from China.

China and Vietnam both deployed significant naval firepower to the area to disrupt and stop Malaysia’s energy exploration activities through intimidation.

AMTI tracked the standoff, following China Coast Guard (CCG) ships Haijing 5203 and 5305 as they patrolled around the British vessel being used by Malaysia in the region.

Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur signed a deal to put aside their respective claims in after a UN ruling in 2009, but the latest move by Malaysia appears to break the agreement.

The regions highlighted in purple on the map have been explored by Malaysia’s West Capella vessel, risking a clash in the future according to ATMI’s report.

It says: “Chinese militia and law enforcement ships continue to approach dangerously close to the rig and supply vessels, creating risks of collision as they have during other oil and gas operations over the last year.”

The standoff remains ongoing as the three countries spark yet another feud in the already hotly contested South China Sea.

Vietnamese militias remain in the area monitoring the movements of the Malaysian vessel, possibly repeating calls for it to end its exploration.

The government in Kuala Lumpur has showed no signs of relenting on its mission, even the face of Beijing’s “monster” coast guard looking to assert dominance in the region.

According to ATMI: “The motivations of China and Vietnam seem clear.

“The biggest question is why the Malaysian government chose to ignore the spirit of the 2009 join submission with Vietnam and, in so doing, undermine whatever solidarity Southeast Asian parties might hope to build in their oil and gas disputes with Beijing.”

China has already infuriated many of its neighbours by staking a claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea via its Nine Dash-Line claim.

Also referred to by some as the ’10-dash line’ or ’11-dash line’, it serves as a demarcation for what Beijing believe to be its waters.

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The South China Sea is hotly contested because of its lucrative shipping lanes, capacity for military strategic advantages and wealth of natural resources such as oil and minerals.

At the centre of this disagreement are various island clusters such as the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands. China has had particularly tense relations with Vietnam and the Philippines over islands in the region.

The islands have been heavily militarised by China, with runways, helipads and aircraft all placed across seven of the archipelago’s features.

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