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Is Vietnam’s restrained approach to maritime issues the key to fewer, muted confrontations with China?

Hanoi also has the ability to isolate maritime issues from other bilateral ones, analysts say.

Vietnamese officials he had spoken to pointed to the many positive aspects in China-Vietnam relations, in which maritime disputes constituted only “a small aspect”.

This allows Hanoi “to manage and isolate these from other bilateral relations”, according to Rahman, who added that Vietnamese officials privately informed Beijing when Chinese coastguard ships had harassed fishing vessels, for example.

“These incidents are not publicised as Vietnam prefers to deal with them privately,” Rahman said, noting that such an approach was likely to have influenced China’s approach to its maritime disputes with Vietnam, leading to fewer confrontations with Hanoi.

But despite ongoing patrols by Chinese vessels near Vietnam’s oil and gas fields in the South China Sea, these incidents have not resulted in high-profile confrontations between Beijing and Hanoi.

Earlier this month, the Chinese coastguard conducted an “intrusive patrol” to assert its claims over Vietnam’s oil and gas fields near Vanguard Bank in the southern position of the disputed waterway.

A Vietnamese fisheries surveillance vessel was tracked shadowing the Chinese ship, maritime security expert Ray Powell of Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Centre for National Security Innovation wrote afterwards on social media.

Powell earlier reported that another Chinese coastguard ship had been near Vietnam’s oil exploration blocks at Vanguard Bank since early December.

The Chinese ship had mostly been running “dark”, or not broadcasting its automatic information system, which “violates the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, of which China is a signatory”, Powell wrote in an