Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Vietnam’s dangerous acts (A Chinese Perspective)

As you are reading this article, dozens of Vietnamese vessels, including armed ships, are still ramming into Chinese government vessels, which are protecting our oil and gas drilling operations in the waters close to China’s Xisha Islands (also known as Paracel Islands). More than 560 such deliberate collisions have happened in the past three weeks.

As you are reading this article, the recent wave of violence in Vietnam has not yet calmed down. Almost all the Chinese entrepreneurs in southern Vietnam have been victims of beating, smashing, looting and burning.

Several Chinese citizens have been killed, with more than 100 injured. Some are missing.

The Chinese government is gravely concerned over the serious violent activities in Vietnam, and has made every effort to urge the Vietnamese government to immediately stop violence and effectively protect the lives and property of Chinese citizens and enterprises.

These dangerous acts by Vietnam have posed a grave threat to regional peace and stability.

The waters where Vietnamese vessels ram into Chinese vessels are merely 17 nautical miles from Zhongjian Island, part of China’s Xisha Islands. In contrast, the Vietnamese coast is 150 nautical miles away. This is no doubt a location within the contiguous zone of China’s territorial waters.

China has no dispute with Vietnam in this part of the waters. Clearly, Vietnam has grossly violated China’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

The Xisha Islands are an inherent territory of China. Their status had been openly recognized by the international community, including Vietnam, for decades since World War II. In his Sept. 14, 1958, statement on behalf of the Vietnamese government, then Vietnamese premier Pham Van Dong publicly recognized the Xisha Islands and other islands in the South China Sea as Chinese territories.

That has made the Vietnamese government’s recent change of mind and refusal to recognize the Xisha Islands as Chinese territory extremely shocking. Vietnam has obviously violated “estoppel”, an established doctrine in international law. Its harassment against Chinese drilling operations is intended to create a so-called Xisha dispute. Such behavior is ridiculous. It won’t be accepted by China or any trustworthy and peace-loving nation.

Disputes do exist between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea. But they are in the waters of the Nansha Islands, not the Xisha Islands. Vietnam is indeed a practitioner of double standards. It has marked 57 oil and gas blocks in those disputed waters.

Among them, seven oil and gas fields are in production and 37 oil rigs are up and running. China didn’t intervene, not because it’s beyond our capabilities, but because we have exercised utmost restraint in the interest of broader relations with Vietnam and peace and stability in the South China Sea. Our diplomatic protest began as Vietnam started its first drilling activities in the disputed areas years ago, but we haven’t taken any further actions.

China wants a negotiated solution with Vietnam in the disputed areas in the South China Sea. A wise approach is to shelve disputes and carry out joint development. The logic behind this proposal is consistent with universal values and the rule of law among civilized societies. But Vietnam has deliberately turned a blind eye to this kind and sincere offer.

China, like other ASEAN countries, is deeply concerned about the rising tensions stirred up by Vietnam. We have much at stake as the provocations happen in waters so near to the Xisha Islands, our doorstep. Countries in the region must take an objective, holistic, fair and historical view of the ins and outs of the situation, and make a proper response to keep our region peaceful and stable. This is indeed our common objective and shared aspiration.

Now the number one priority is to reduce tension. To create conditions for this, our partners in the region should not listen only to one side of the story. One such example is a Vietnamese announcement that the door of dialogue has been shut by the Chinese side.

This is far from the truth. Our channel of communication is always open. Up until May 15, we had had more than 20 rounds of dialogue with Vietnam at different levels. China State Councillor Yang Jiechi spoke to Vietnam’s Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh over phone.

And Chinese deputy foreign ministers are in close touch and frequently exchange their views on the ongoing situation. Such diplomatic communications are essential and will continue.

After all, is the current incident really unsolvable? Definitely not. But the answer can only come from the Vietnamese side.

As a saying goes, those who tie the knot should untie it. The Vietnamese government must drop all illusions and take two decisive measures. One, immediately halt all dangerous activities against China’s oil rig and pull out all its vessels from the waters under China’s jurisdiction. Two, deliver its promise with no hesitation to stop all the domestic violence, to effectively protect the lives of all the Chinese citizens and corporate assets in Vietnam.

We sincerely hope ASEAN countries and others in the region, as important stakeholders, can urge Vietnam to be constructive and do what it should do. The message should be loud and clear: It’s in Vietnam’s interest to keep good relations with China and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, and work together with China to settle this problem.

By Liu Hongyang, Jakarta chargé d’ affaires at the Chinese Embassy in Indonesia


1 comment:

  1. The violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam last week serve as a “warm-up” to a much more serious military confrontation among the South China Sea claimants, especially China, Vietnam and the Philippines, as there are no indications that the conflicting states are willing to adopt internationally accepted norms of peaceful settlement.

    It will only be a matter of time before the South China Sea row explodes into a full-scale war if the claimants continue to insist they are absolutely right and the others are wrong and, therefore, can do whatever they like to impose their will over others. Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim sovereignty, at least partially, over the territory.

    The Associated Press reported two Chinese passenger ships arriving at Vung Ang Port Monday to evacuate about 3,000 Chinese workers following deadly rioting last week in Vietnam. Chinese President Xi Jinping should act sternly amid nationwide outrage against Vietnam.

    Meanwhile, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang has ordered zero-tolerance toward anti-China street demonstrations because a racial issue could become a dangerous problem.

    Both Xi and Truong know very well the huge risks of escalating tension between the two nations because nationalistic sentiments could spiral out of control. The two countries share a history of armed conflicts. Vietnam prides itself as a nation that could defeat major world powers such as France and the United States.

    In December 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to topple the brutal Pol Pot regime, one fully backed by China. Two months later, China invaded Vietnam to teach its neighbor a “lesson”.

    Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was correct when he called on all parties to show self-restraint. “The use of force, violations of international law, including of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the DOC [Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea], have no place in our region today,” Marty said over the weekend.

    Indonesia has no claim over the South China Sea, but will certainly be affected should any conflict erupt. China itself has made it clear that it will not accept the involvement of ASEAN in the disputes because for Beijing this is a bilateral issue.

    Most ASEAN members stand head and shoulder vis-à-vis China because their economies are very dependent on China. But despite all the imbalances, China and other claimants to the territory should remember that no state could bear the burden resulting from the use of military force to achieve its goals. They are playing with fire.