Vietnam cannot depend on other countries to solve sea dispute, defense official says
Vietnam Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh said his country will have to rely on its own resources to solve disputes involving the South China Sea and to protect its own sovereignty.
The nation has a long-standing dispute with China over parts of the South China Sea.
“We have to rely on our own resources – political, diplomatic, economic, and defense – to protect our independence and sovereignty. No depending on other countries,” Vinh said on the sidelines of the three-day Shangri-La dialogue, June 1-3, 2012, an Asia-Pacific security forum.
He added that the “power of national unification and the international community’s support are the political edge” Vietnam needs for victory.
Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei, along with China and Vietnam, claim total or partial sovereignty over the South China Sea, believed to carry large deposits of oil and gas.
Vinh said it is important to distinguish between the international community’s support and dependence on other nations to solve disputes.
“If we are dependent or let the misunderstanding arise that we are relying on other countries’ power to solve issues, it will be very dangerous,” he told Vietnam’s Thanh Nien newspaper, adding, “When your backer withdraws or strikes a compromise with the other side, you will be the first victim of making such a wrong choice.”
Vietnam must actively object to the use of military or non-military force, also known as soft power, to exert pressure, he said.
“We must definitely not provoke or let ourselves be provoked. Instead, we need to prove to our people, the international community and the country which has disputes with us that we are just and reasonable,” Vinh said.
The deputy defense minister strongly urged disputing countries to abide by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS], which gives coastal countries sovereign rights and jurisdiction over their continental shelf and exclusive economic zones that extend 200 nautical miles from shore.
China’s claims of “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea date back to the 1930s, when official maps from Beijing contained the whole sea as Chinese territory.
China and South Vietnam once controlled different parts of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, but after a brief conflict in 1974, Beijing snatched control of the entire group of islands. In 1988, the Johnson South Reef Skirmish in the Spratly Islands resulted in more than 60 Vietnamese sailors and Marines being killed.
Since then, a string of diplomatic rows in the South China Sea have escalated tensions between the disputing countries.
Recently, one of 21 Vietnamese detained for 49 days for fishing in disputed waters near the Paracel Islands claimed he was tortured while detained by Chinese authorities.
The Vietnamese were released on April 20. Fisherman Le Lon alleged Chinese Coast Guard officials repeatedly beat him and his colleagues and denied them proper meals.
Vietnam officials claimed the fishermen were in Vietnamese waters and should not have been detained.
Chinese officials, on the other hand, claimed the detentions were legal as it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Paracel Islands and its adjacent waters.
Vinh is hopeful that tension between Vietnam and China will ease.
“Over the past year we have, step by step, built a trustworthy base for the two countries’ relationship [to grow]. But we can’t be too optimistic and have to continue taking practical and detailed actions,” he said.
Vinh sees Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to China last October as a major turning point in Sino-Vietnamese ties as both sides signed an agreement on basic principles to settle sea-related issues.
According to the agreement, both countries committed to solving sea issues peacefully and according to international laws.
“It happened right at a time when there were deep concerns about disputes, differences and conflicts between Vietnam and China. So it quickly cooled down things,” Vinh said.
“In terms of defense, both countries have enhanced cooperation in navy, border defense and military areas. Economic establishments have also tried to improve cooperation and exchanges. Fishermen’s violations in the sea were handled softly, especially on Vietnam’s side.”
Vinh added that Vietnam had become more open and transparent about its issues with China and its plans to improve bilateral ties.
“Our policy is to be open about the commitments between Vietnam and China, and to clearly state that we respect the sovereignty and benefits of other regional countries as well as reasonable economic benefits of non-regional countries in the East Sea [South China Sea].”