Hanoi says China ships have left disputed sea after month-long standoff

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A fleet of Chinese ships has left Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, Hanoi said on Thursday, ending a tense month-long standoff in the resource-rich waterway claimed by both sides and others.

A Chinese survey vessel and several accompanying ships entered the waters around the Spratly Islands early last month, drawing ire from Hanoi, the US and the EU over Chinese increasing aggression in the resource-rich seas.

Hanoi on Thursday confirmed the vessels had left its exclusive economic zone, after weeks of repeated demands to vacate.

“On August 7, 2019, the group of Haiyang 8 vessels belonging to China ended its geological survey operation and left Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone,” foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang told reporters.

She added that Vietnam has been “expressing and showing goodwill to use dialogue with relevant countries to solve disputes.”

Beijing has not confirmed the presence of its ships in the area.

China claims the majority of the South China Sea, often invoking its so-called nine-dash line as a supposed historic justification to the waters, which are a key global shipping route.

It is accused of deploying warships, arming outposts and ramming fishing vessels in the sea, which is also contested by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

On a trip to Thailand last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Southeast Asian nations to push back against Chinese “coercion” in the sea.

The US earlier called for an end to China’s “bullying behavior” after reports of the survey ship in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone emerged.

This week the EU top diplomat Federica Mogherini said the bloc was concerned over “increasing tension” in the area and slammed China’s “militarization” in the waterway.