Last update 6/22/2011 8:09:13 PM (GMT+7)

East Sea and the awakening
VietNamNet Bridge – Recent happenings show a turning-point in awareness over the East Sea disputes, both domestically and internationally.

VN condemns Chinese intrusion

On May 26 2011, three Chinese patrol vessels intruded deep into Vietnam’s continental shelf to harass and cut cables of Binh Minh 02, a seismic survey ship of the Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam).

The incident immediately attracted the local and international public. It was also mentioned by the Vietnamese Minister of Defense, Phung Quang Thanh at the 10th Asia Security Summit or the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore from June 3-5. For its seriousness, observers call it the “Binh Minh 02 incident”.

However, China’s provoking act continued on June 9 when Chinese fishing and fishery administration ships harassed and cut cables of PetroVietnam’s Viking II ship within Vietnam’s waters, which was only 150 nautical miles from Vung Tau city. This incident is seen by international observers as China’s intentional escalation.

For Vietnam in particular and the East Sea disputes in general, the Binh Minh 02 and Viking II incidents are important landmarks because firstly, it happened deep in Vietnam’s continental shelf, not in disputed waters as previous cases.

Secondly, they aimed to oil and gas exploration activities, one of the most important economic activities in the sea of Vietnam.

Thirdly, they occurred intentionally and systematically, not accidents.

Fourthly, they were a clear escalation since they happened immediately after Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie’s visits to Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines (from May 15) and before the Asia Security Summit in Singapore (June 3-5).

Fifthly, these events are dangerous because the entire media engine of China has slandered Vietnam as the provoker and China played the role of a victim while Vietnam did not prepare anything in terms of communications.

Vietnam has been awakened after the two incidents. Threats against Vietnam’s sea and island sovereignty and security of marine economic activities are very visible. The local media has immediately updated the developments in the East Sea. Many scholars and observers said that Vietnam can bring the “Binh Minh 02 incident” to the international court.

The Vietnamese government has also made fast and drastic responses. Only one day after the Binh Minh 02 incident, representatives of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry met with the representatives of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi to hand a diplomatic note which asked China to put an end its acts of intrusion into Vietnam’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone and to compensate losses for Binh Minh 02 ship.

The incident was then raised at the 10th Asia Security Summit in Singapore by the Vietnamese Defense Minister, Phung Quang Thanh.

On June 17, Vietnamese Ambassador Le Luong Minh protested China’s intrusion in Vietnam’s waters at the annual Meeting of the States Parties to the UNCLOS, which was held from June 13 to 17, in New York, USA.

Additionally, to the government and the media’s moves, the people, especially the youth, in Hanoi and HCM City organized peaceful marches in front of the Chinese Embassy and Consulate to express their protest against China’s acts in the Binh Minh 02 and Viking II incidents on June 5, 12 and 19.

China is hectically materializing its strategy: considering the East Sea as the core interest and occupying up to 80 percent of the East Sea through the groundless claim of U-shape line.

Previously, China’s provoking acts occurred in the disputed area but now they are moving to the coast of Vietnam, the areas that are completely in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. China is trying to turn undisputed into dispute areas to materialize its plot to monopolize the East Sea.

The Vietnamese people have awakened before the threat against the country’s sovereignty over the sea and islands, against Vietnam’s legal interests and against marine economic activities. The awakening is spreading throughout the country, to every social class. The country’s sea and island sovereignty has become the burning topic.

In terms of information, the people and the local media are clearly aware that though Vietnam has justice, Vietnam needs to raise its voice to speak out that justice and win the support of the world public. The international public will raise its voice once the Vietnamese public expresses its opinion.

In terms of foreign affairs, Vietnam’s request of China to not only put an end to its provoking acts and compensate losses for Vietnamese ships, has shown Vietnam’s determination in defending its sovereignty over the sea and islands. This move is helpful in drawing uniting the Vietnamese people.

The speech of the Minister of Defense Phung Quang Thanh at the 10th Asia Security Summit in Singapore is also a meaningful resonance.

In terms of economics, the awareness of using Vietnamese goods and making the economy prosper has flared up because the people know that they cannot defend sovereignty if economic potential is weak.

Researchers are actively collecting documents and searching historical evidences as well as preparing legal files to defend the country’s sovereignty under the international law. The Vietnam Bar Federation and the Vietnam Lawyers’ League have released statements protesting China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty and jurisdiction rights over its continental shelf and exclusive economic zone. Other significant organizations have also had similar actions.

The strategy on solving East Sea disputes has had encouraging changes. Instead of settling disputes through bilateral negotiations as China suggested, multilateral negotiation based on international law has become the clear policy.

The sense of unity among the countries which share the common interests in the East Sea has been urged by specific actions: Seven members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for seeking peaceful solutions and using the UNCLOS to settle East Sea disputes at the annual Meeting of the States Parties to the UNCLOS, which was held from June 13 to 17, in New York, USA.

The joint statement between Vietnam and the US released at the fourth Vietnam-US Political, Security and Defense Dialogue in Washington D.C on June 18, also emphasizes that all disputes in the East Sea must be solved through diplomatic and cooperative channels, not by pressure or by force.

Above all, the unity among the entire people, both at home and abroad has been enhanced greatly to defend the country’s sovereignty.

Internationally, awareness of the East Sea disputes has also changed.

The Philippines has strongly protested against China’s violations in the East Sea and this country is preparing legal evidences to bring China to the international court.

The US has also had significant changes in its awareness of the East Sea through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement: “having important national interests” in this region at the ASEAN meeting in Hanoi last July.

Most recently, two US senators – Jim Webb and James Inhofe submitted a resolution on June 13, condemning what they described as “the use of force” by Chinese vessels and called for multilateral and peaceful solutions for disputes in the East Sea.

All of these show that with Vietnam, the general power from the people has been mobilized to defend the country’s sovereignty.

Vietnam’s awareness of the way to defend its sovereignty over the sea and islands has made a turning point and it is gradually combined with important moves in the international area against China’s provoking.

The national power begins to combine with the power of the age. A new chapter for solutions for the East Sea disputes has turned into a new page. But how this chapter is written is dependent on the action of each Vietnamese, especially leaders.

Dr. Giap Van Duong
(The author would like to thank Pham Thu Xuan, Le Vinh Truong and Nguyen Quang A for contributing opinions for this article.)