[JURIST] Vietnam's prime minister announced Thursday that his country is considering legal action against China regarding its claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea [BBC backgrounder]. Because any action will likely be fiercely opposed by China, Vietnam has thus far attempted a low-key approach to the issue of disputed waters. However, earlier this month, China deployed an oil rig [NYT report] to an area of the sea that had been claimed by Vietnam, sparking outrage and protests [CNN report] across the country. While the Vietnamese have demanded that the rig be withdrawn, China has yet to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Legal action may come in the form of an appeal against China, or Vietnam may join the challenge [JURIST report] brought by the Philippines, in which international arbitration is sought to declare many of China's territorial claims in the South China Sea illegal. The prime minister made it clear that military action would not be taken unless as a defensive measure.
Territorial disputes over the South China Sea have been an ongoing source of tension [JURIST op-ed] between China and its neighboring countries. The Philippines and Vietnam in January issued statements condemning a new Chinese law that require foreign fisherman to obtain approval from China [JURIST report] before fishing in large portions of the South China Sea. Many national claims to territory overlap, causing uncertainty and efforts by many of the nations attempting to assert their claims. China claims ownership of the majority of the Sea, an area rich in resources and minerals.