Tensions intensified between Chinese ships and Vietnamese vessels the CNOOC (Chinese state oil company) attempted to place an oil rig in disputed waters of the South China Sea. The Vietnamese navy tried unsuccessfully to prevent it. The Chinese navy pushed it back with water cannons.

China, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia all have competing claims in the region. The South China Sea is a vital energy supply route for the People’s Republic. Over the past two years, Beijing has beefed up its maritime intervention capability.

The incident took place 120 nautical miles off the Vietnamese coast.