Last update 8/10/2011 8:00:00 AM (GMT+7)

Deep water, U-shaped line and marine sovereignty enforcement

VietNamNet Bridge continues to publish the second part of the round-table talks between VietNamNet and two guests, Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi and Dr. Tran Dinh Thien.

How to turn marine strategy into reality

Mr Tran Dinh Thien (left) and Nguyen Chu Hoi
VietNamNet: Some people said that Vietnam does not have the tradition to conquer the sea by big ships, but it is said that the most important element in conquering the sea is fixing the co-ordinate and the harmonious combination among the crew.

We are striving to go to the sea. Perhaps the comparison is not very accurate but I freely speak it out. Firstly, in terms of co-ordinate, it is the legal corridor. Secondly, in terms of harmonious combination of the crew, it is the combination between a competent state agency with other agencies that have connections to the sea.

When we mention the marine strategy, people say about the establishment of a so-called “Marine Economic Ministry”. Why has this ministry not been formed yet?

Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi:
We currently have around 15 ministries and sectors that have connections to the sea and involve in managing sea-related activities. That form of management can create conflicts of interests during the process of developing and using the sea, islands and coastal areas.

Specifically, marine resources are the system of sharing natural resources, which do not belong to anyone. For example, the Ha Long or Nha Trang bays do not belong to any ministry, but to various ministries and agencies. Vietnam has 15 ministries and agencies that involve in managing the sea, but none of them is on behalf of the State to manage the sea in the overall aspect. Therefore, we need such a powerful agency.

At present, our General Department of Sea and Islands has no power to instruct other sea-related agencies, like the General Department of Seafood, etc. If we have a general department or a ministry that can issue law or policies on the sea, we can solve marine-related issues effectively. For example, China has the General Department of Ocean under the National Assembly.

A new management mode in the form of general management will not replace the roles of ministries and agencies, but all issues related to the development and use of the sea must be unified in all aspects.

Dr. Tran Dinh Thien: Why our marine management structure is problematic? Even for management of land-related activities, we need to change management mode to strengthen the combination among ministries.

In Vietnam, localism is so strong at each ministry and each locality. To go out to the sea and manage the sea, we need to change the thought on sea management. This is state management over the sea, not ministries’ management related to their fields in the sea.

To do it, it is necessary to emphasize the conditions for it. The concept of co-ordinate is the concept of sovereignty. Marine sovereignty is getting hot because countries now have modern technologies to go to the sea.

The prerequisite condition for solving sovereignty issue is related countries have to negotiation, not using forces. Historical evidences for sovereignty is one side, but it is also very important for enforcing sovereignty in both defending and exploring the sea.

We have changed our thought to develop the shipbuilding industry. Because of the Vinashin scandal, some doubt our demand and ability to develop the shipbuilding and shipping industry. But they are two different things. Vietnam’s fleet must be strong in the sea. We cannot “forget” to develop our fleet because of the Vinashin case.

VietNamNet: We would like to question Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi about the Law of the Sea and the Law of Natural Resources and Environment, because at a recent workshop, you complained that Vietnam does not have the Law of the Sea. In fact, China has applied its Law of the Sea on some exploration activities of Vietnam, particularly activities of Vietnamese fishermen.

Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi: The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 covers and creates legal balance for coastal and island states. To ensure equality, that convention even created the right to benefit from the sea for countries without sea, through hiring sea ports or registering shipping practice.

However, each country must have its basic law on the sea. Japan issued the Law on the Ocean in 2007, which is similar to Vietnam’s draft Law on the Sea. China has also released the Law on the Sea and they had to prepare for a long time. We claim and defend our marine sovereignty and we can do it with our real strength in the sea, but the most important is still law.

We have been exploring the sea but now we must give priority to prepare the legal foundation. We must be determined to issue the Law of the Sea despite any protest because it is our national interest. Once it is approved, we have legal tool to defend our national interests. It is the foundation for specialized laws. The Law on Marine Resources and Environment is under compilation but it still has many problems.

VietNamNet: For that reason your agency’s so-called Law on Marine Resources and Environment is also sluggish?

Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi: Should we bring it to the National Assembly for ratification before the Law of the Sea? We take initiative to compile it because it is a time-consuming task.

VietNamNet: Do you want to say something about it, Mr Tran Dinh Thien?

Dr. Tran Dinh Thien: I think our approach, including the building of legal framework, is slow. We must have the basic law before making practice law, that is the law-making process. If we do not have the Law on the Sea before specialized laws that are compiled by marine-related ministries, these laws will be against each others because these laws aim to serve the own interests of ministries and agencies.

The National Assembly must see the Law of the Sea is the top priority, the future of Vietnam.

VietNamNet: What is the role of the concept that the deep water is the “public sea” or the “high sea?

Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi: The major axis of the deep water structure outside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of related countries (200 nautical miles) belong to the so-called “public sea” or “high sea”. China’s claims seem to focus on the argument that the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos that they claim for sovereignty have 12 nautical miles of territorial waters and 200 nautical miles of EEZ. Actually, it is only for the areas with politic and legal institutions appropriate to the UNCLOS.

When China makes public its U-shaped line, it means anything inside that line belongs to China, including Vietnam’s Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos and they push the disputed area to the marine border of other countries in the East Sea.

Dr. Tran Dinh Thien: China invents the U-shaped line and regularly adjusts that line. That fact shows that their legal foundation is very poor. Moreover, that behavior violates international law. If they draw the U-shaped line and claim the sea inside that line is theirs, other countries can also draw other lines. If China can, why others cannot? It is uncivilized behaviors and not the behaviors of a big country.

Last year, at ASEAN’s workshop on the East Sea in Hanoi, China criticized Vietnam to internationalize the Ease Sea disputes, but most of attendants said that the East Sea is an international sea already.

Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi mentioned the concept of “high sea” or “public sea”. Could that concept turn China’s U-shaped line from challenge to opportunity for related countries to receive more support from outside?

Dr. Nguyen Chu Hoi: The interests in the East Sea are the interests of many parties, including both countries in the East Sea and countries that are not in this region. It is uneasy for harming these interests. China surely thinks of it but they are now trying to take advantage of a big country.

The recent workshop on the East Sea in Washington DC focused on two issues. The first is interest in the East Sea. Scholars proved that the East Sea contains the interests of multi-parties and the solution for the East Sea disputes must be different. Prof. Duton spoke very well that China should not do the thing that it must do, which makes other countries have to do what they can do.