According to Asia Maritime Transperancy Innitiative (AMTI), since the end of May/2019 to June/2019, there were at least 2 Chinese coast guard vessels (35111 and 46302) conducted illegal patrol activities around the Luconia Shoals which lies within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Malaysia, attempted to prevent the operation of the Sapura Esperanza drilling rig in block SK308 (about 85 nautical miles offshore of Malaysia), and harassed the rig’s offshore supply vessels.
The aforementioned acts of China encountered Malaysia’s strong reactions. When the conflict between China and Malaysia has not yet been settled down, in the beginning of July/2019, China sent two groups of vessels to operate in the EEZ and the continental shelf of Vietnam – a country that claims sovereignty in South China Sea. The first group consisted of 02 marine vessels and several “militia” fishing vessels were seen near the Hakuryu-5 oil rig.
The rig is under Rosneft Vietnam BV for exploration and drilling at block 06-1. The fishing vessels were there to monitor and harass the operation of the drilling rig. The other group included 30 vessels (naval, coast guard, logistic and militia fishing vessels), among them there were two large Chinese coast guard vessels illegally operated in Vanguard Bank. The two coast guard vessels have escorted the oil survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 since 3/7 until now.
Disrupting Oil Operations
The above activities of the Chinese ships are illegal and seriously violates Vietnam’s sovereignty and jurisdiction under UNCLOS 1982. Block 06-1 lies within Vietnam’s EEZ and is a traditional oil and gas exploitation area for the country. It has been assigned to Rosneft Vietnam in the last 15 years. The Vanguard Bank is about 160 nautical miles from Vietnam’s Vung Tau province and extends southeast of the Vietnamese continental shelf, a deep trench separates it from Spratly island.
Up until now, Vietnam pursues a consistent policy of resolving conflicts and disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful means. It is all done in the spirit of partnership and responsibility for the community, based on international law, without using force or threatening to use force. Vietnam has contacted China on multiple occasions via different channels, delivered diplomatic notes to oppose China’s violations and staunchly demanded China stop all unlawful activities. Vietnam also wants China to withdraw its ships from the waters of Vietnam. Relevant Vietnamese forces at sea have implemented many resolute measures, in line with Vietnamese and international laws to enforce Vietnam’s sovereignty and jurisdiction.
From 16 to 25 of July, the Foreign Ministry of Vietnam makes three statements to strongly oppose the Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts conducted activities in the southern area of South China Sea that violated Vietnam’s EEZ and continental shelf and Vietnam consistently, peacefully defended its sovereignty. Experts and scholars affirm the area belongs to Vietnam. The US also affirms the same point. Noah Zaring, a political counsellor at the US Embassy in Vietnam, says visibly, China is intentionally using force to serve its purposes.
China has destabilized the situation and used power to bully other countries. China should cooperate with and respect international law and not harm regional countries’ sovereignty and trust, Noah says. Umnova Irina Anatolyevna, dean of the Russian State University of Justice’s Faculty of Constitution and Law Research under the Supreme Court of Russia, says China’s activities go against the 1982 UNCLOS and Asean countries’ efforts to protect peace and resolve disputes by peaceful means. She says Vietnam should insist on its stance to resolve disputes by peaceful means and oppose the use of force.
Professor, Doctor Pham Quang Minh, Dean of the University of Social Sciences and Humanity, says, “In a world of globalization and interdependence, states even big ones cannot detach themselves from the global trend.
Vietnam’s Peaceful Approach
“Vietnam will lobby for the international community and use its diplomatic influence for a peaceful resolution of disputes”. “Diplomacy is a sharp tool to make the world understand Vietnam better, share Vietnam’s values and viewpoints to handle disputes peacefully without the use of force or threat to use force. They are Vietnam’s consistent principles and it’s time to use diplomacy to defend national sovereignty”, Mr. Minh notes.
US Congressman Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, statement on July 26 speaks a volume. He says the China’s actions are in violation of Vietnamese sovereignty and legitimate rights within the EEZ. “China’s recent aggression in the SCS (called the East Sea by Vietnam) is a disturbing demonstration of a country openly flouting international law. “Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China’s actions constitute a violation of Vietnamese sovereignty and its legitimate rights,” says the statement.
“Incidents like this demonstrate China’s blatant disregard for international law and diplomacy,” he affirms. He says he supports Vietnam and US regional partnership in condemning this aggression. The international community must continue to uphold the rules-based order and international law, he adds. He calls on China to “immediately withdraw all ships from the territorial waters of its neighbours and end these illegal bullying tactics. Many international and regional media published articles and views expressing support for Vietnam.
Reuters, Bloomberg, The Diplomat says the Vanguard Bank is entirely within Vietnam’s EEZ and continental shelf. The US Department of Foreign Affairs on July 20 issued a statement expressing its concerns about China’s repeated and provocative actions. The world condemns China’s attacks on offshore oil and gas development activities of other claimant states. They say it threatened the Asia-Pacific energy security; calling on China to stop bullying, intimidating other countries. They stress that China is destabilizing the situation, threatening regional peace and security.
These illegal activities by China are done with careful calculations to server Beijing’s long-term intent to monopolize the SCS under the “nine-dash line”. After 3 years from the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling rejecting China’s claim to sovereignty in the South China Sea, it appears China is ready to use force.
Chinese leadership was confident they had basically “sunk” the Court’s ruling through the inaction of the international community. Now they are ready to react strongly, accusing claimant nations of “threatening China’s interests.”The ridiculous claims by Beijing are now backed by China’s readiness to use naval forces, coast guard and militia fishing vessels and survey ships to express “its reaction.” China chose Vanguard Bank, the southwestern point of the “nine-dash line” in Vietnam’s continental shelf and near the border area between the waters of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei to conspire and turn this sea area into a disputed area.
This is made possible because of the absence of a strong reaction from the countries involved, thereby expanding the scope of for China’s “sovereignty” claims away from its coastline. China’s timing is not haphazard. It was waiting for the end important regional multilateral forums (Asean, G-20, Shangri-la Dialogue) to conduct its aggressive actions. This, it hopes, will limit negative reactions from the international community. But China’s move seriously violates international law and directly threatens regional and global peace and stability.
Vietnam’s correct approach has created prestige and soft power for the country to defend its sea and island sovereignty. Vietnam’s compliance with international law, respect for transparency in resolving disputes, and cooperative manner is getting support from the international community and contributed to regional and global peace, stability, and development. China’s deliberate infringement, causing regional tensions, challenges the solidarity of the Asean.
Previously China had invaded Malaysia’s Luconia, frequently harassing the Thilu island area (Pag-asa) which is under the Philippines. We should all together condemn China’s unruly actions, request the US to show a substantial response, and last but not least, ASEAN needs to present a stronger declaration on this matter.