Vietnam, Japan, US, ASEAN should increase pressure on China

VietNamNet Bridge – China will not stop using force to change the status quo in the East Sea to gradually turn the situation into a fait accompli.

In response, countries should make it clear to China that if it continues to act irresponsibly it will suffer the consequences.

East Sea, international community, increase pressure, China

A Tokyo-based correspondent for Radio Voice of Vietnam interviewing Prof. Narushige Michishita from Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS).

This remark was made by Professor Narushige Michishita, group leader in charge of international security studies at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in a recent interview with a Tokyo-based correspondent for Radio Voice of Vietnam.

What do you think about the tense situation in the East Sea after China positioned its Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EZZ) and Chinese ships launched acts of aggression against Vietnamese vessels. According to you, what is the actual purpose of China’s instalment of its drilling rig?

As we all know, Japan has also experienced problems with Chinese ships, similar to what Vietnam is currently facing. In 2010, the same incident occurred in waters near the Senkaku islands when a Chinese fishing vessel deliberately rammed a Japanese coast guard ship. At that time, Japanese media published images of the incident.

The Japanese people generally have the same sympathy and share views with Vietnam after they witnessed the Chinese ships’ attack on Vietnamese marine police vessels.

So what's the purpose behind China’s act of putting its oil rig in Vietnam’s EEZ? We need to be aware of the timing of Beijing’s decision to place this rig. The incident occurred shortly after US President Barack Obama's Asian tour, showing the US commitment and its concern over security issues in Asia and the ongoing tension in the region.

Beijing's move appears to be a litmus test for President Obama’s viewpoint on regional security.  Washington is committed to ensuring Asian security. China wants to see how effective US commitments are before posing further challenges to security. Is it that Washington has failed to perform its promise to Asian allies?

In my opinion, the true nature of the recent developments is that China wants to challenge the US commitment after President Obama’s Asian trip. That's what gives me real cause for concern.

So far, Vietnam has reacted in a restrained manner despite suffering damage and losses after Chinese vessels deliberately rammed Vietnamese ships. What is your assessment of Vietnam’s restraint?

In the context of such high tension, I admire and appreciate Vietnam’s ability to maintain dignity and restraint. However, the issue that concerns me is the possibility that China could take advantage of your restraint in preparation for a subsequent attack.

The more you limit the reactions in response to the threats posed by China, the more it will make the opponent drive you into a tight corner.

Therefore, in my opinion, while Vietnam has to maintain an attitude of reasonable restraint against China’s aggressive actions, Hanoi should cooperate with Japan, the US and ASEAN countries to take joint actions, issue statements and make diplomatic moves to force Beijing to withdraw its aggressive action in the East Sea.

Could you give some predictions about the tense developments in the East Sea? Whether the ship collision and aggressive actions of China could escalate into conflict or not?

Regarding the two countries’ efforts to handle ongoing tension, we can see that both China and Vietnam have avoided bringing the armies in the rig area.

Both sides have limited military intervention in the area. Vietnam is currently being bullied and backed into a corner by its larger neighbour, forcing it to respond. At present the situation looks set to escalate.

Once the Vietnam Coast Guard can no longer cope with the intimidation from large Chinese ships and Vietnam is forced to bring the navy in,, China will use this as a pretext to draft its military in.. This is the main risk that will escalate tensions.

The most worrying aspect is that China will continue to use force to gradually change the status quo aiming to turn it into a fait accompli.

So, what measures should small countries like Vietnam take to deal with such tactics of China?

China's approach is a long- term strategy to step by step expand its sphere of influence. To combat that approach, we need to gradually improve the capability of self-protection, including military and defence capacities, the capacity of the police and law enforcement at sea, while expanding cooperation mechanisms across the region in terms of security and diplomacy.

We should have a common perception throughout the region that it is impossible to allow China to change the status quo by force. The key here is that we have to build a cooperation mechanism including security cooperation to which China will suffer consequences when it carries out irresponsible actions. The current problem is how to build and implement such a mechanism.

Vietnam needs to make use of restraint, avoid conflict with China so as to create a good impression on the international community that it is trying to solve the problem peacefully.

Vietnam needs to actively increase communication on a regular basis to help regional countries understand its goodwill.

Japanese media fully update developments, so Japan and Asian can follow China’s actions, enabling the international community to have a clearer understanding of what is happening in the East Sea.

Vietnam's efforts will capture the attention of the US and other countries around the world that Vietnam is a responsible country that behaves with responsibility in the region.  That's the biggest pressure that can be generated to China forcing it to ease tensions.

Recently, ASEAN issued a statement on the East Sea issue calling on the concerned parties to refrain and avoid the use of force or threat to use force. What is your assessment of this statement?

The ASEAN’s own statement on the East Sea issue showed a major step has been achieved in dealing with common problems.

China has caused tensions in the East Sea, creating a long-term challenge to the region.  This problem does not only occur in the short time but it will take persistent variables.

The crux of the matter is that China not only causes problems for Vietnam but also reinforced its power, threatening other countries such as Japan and the Philippines. Thus, as well as strengthening diplomatic relations, Japan and Vietnam should tighten defense cooperation to jointly create a necessary counterbalance in response to China’s growing pressure.

This issue cannot be addressed individually by Vietnam or Japan but it is essential to form a solid bloc across the region to deal with Beijing. With this in mind, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has insisted Japan should be allowed the right to collective self-defence.

The right of collective self- defence not only ensures security of Japan but also contributes to maintaining regional security. This will create a mechanism for Japan to broaden security cooperation with many other countries around the world and I believe this is very helpful to the present circumstance.

So if Japan allows the use of the right to collective self- defence, can it help countries affected by Chinese policies of assertiveness in the East Sea like the Philippines and Vietnam or not? How can this affect regional security?

As I mentioned, the right to collective self-defense that Japan has suggested for approval is of great significance at this point. Tokyo can coordinate with Vietnam and other countries to actively contribute to ensuring regional security and implementing security activities.

This is seemingly simple but in reality presents numerous difficulties. Largely if Japan publicly supports Vietnam, China could take action in response to Japan.

In addition, Tokyo will encounter hindrance from political leaders who have mixed views.

To avoid this, Japan can gradually support and cooperate with Vietnam in the field of security. Both sides can start from minor activities such as personnel exchange, military capacity building, facility provision, and small-scale military exercises. I think it is better for both countries to promote cooperation gradually towards building bilateral relations in a sustainable manner.

Source: VOV

East Sea, international community, increase pressure, China