The dispute over the South China Sea escalated this morning when it was reported that Vietnam has entered discussions with EU and US contractors for Western fighter jets and drones.

The dispute over the South China Sea escalated this morning when it was reported that Vietnam has entered discussions with EU and US contractors for Western fighter jets and drones.

Vietnam seeking to upgrade its air defences is the latest event in a long-standing territorial dispute over the South China Sea. China, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Taiwan and Malaysia all have claims to the area. Since January, China have been building artificial islands on submerged reefs, dredging up millions of tonnes of rock and sand from the sea floor and pumping it into the reef to form land. China took control of the one of the bigger reefs in 1988 after a battle with Vietnam, leaving 70 Vietnamese soldiers dead. Since then, China has avoided confrontation; however, with plans to build an air base long enough for fighter jets to take off on one of the new islands, it appears they are choosing now to strengthen their claim to the area.

Ian Storey, from Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies believes that “Although Hanoi knows that its military will always be outnumbered and outgunned by China’s, a strong navy and air force provides it with a limited deterrence and, if push comes to shove, the ability to give China a bloody nose in battle.”

There have already been altercations between Vietnam and China; in May 2014, China put an oil rig in water claimed by Vietnam, sparking an international incident. Strengthening their defences is a move which will further militarise the dispute with Beijing.

By Miranda Wadham