Monks are an inflammatory issue for Beijing right now. Hence Vietnam’s decision to dispatch six of them to take up six-months of residency on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea–China calls them the Nansha Islands–is a doubly provocative act.
The sextet will take charge of Buddhist shrines on the sparsely inhabited islands that were abandoned in the mid-1970s, but which Vietnam has recently refurbished, the BBC reports. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, as well as China and Vietnam, claim sovereignty to parts of the islands to establish their claims over the resource-rich waters around them. The BBC has a map of the competing maritime boundaries here.
No official response from Beijing yet, but if and when it comes it will surely be to reaffirm its “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands. Late last month it condemned a plan by Manila to invite foreign investors to explore for oil and natural gas in the area in just such terms.