Vietnam should take a tougher stand against Chinese encroachment

2As Chinese Haiyang Dizhi 8 geological survey vessel group repeatedly violated Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf since early July 2019 – not only moving closer to the Vietnamese coast, expanding its activity scale, but also increasing its aggressiveness, the Institute for Legal and Development Policy Studies on October 6, 2019 held a seminar on the South China Sea in Hanoi. Many researchers, experts and former officials, including Dr. Hoang Ngoc Giao, Mr. Hoang Viet, Major General Le Van Cuong, former Ambassadors Nguyen Truong Giang, Nguyen Trung and Truong Trieu Duong participated in the seminar.

Participants in the discussion shared the view that the aggressive activities of Chinese Haiyang Dizhi 8 geological survey vessel group in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf were "extremely serious"; China's escalating moves in this area of the South China Sea are "putting Vietnam in a very dangerous position".

According to some sources, on October 7, Haiyang Dizhi 8 survey vessel group moved 4.7 nm deeper into Vietnam's EEZ , only about 89.1 nm away from the Vietnamese coast (165 km), showing an increasingly blatant and aggressive violation. The scope and nature of operation of the survey vessel and its escorts have changed towards being more provoking. The area in which Haiyang Dizhi 8 group not only operated in areas around the Vanguard Bank and Phuc Tan (Prince of Wales Bank), but also extended further to the north between Quy Nhon and Quang Ngai, which stretched over 220 nm.

Mr. Hoang Viet, a member of the Board for Law of the Sea on and Islands of the Vietnam Bar Federation, said: “If this water falls in Chinese control, it also means that in the future, Vietnam will not have the sea. It’s a great risk to the country and people of Vietnam"

At the seminar, Mr. Truong Trieu Duong, former Ambassador of Vietnam to the Philippines ( at the time when the Permanent Court of Arbitration handled the Philippines vs. China case on the South China Sea) said that "China's ambition in the South China Sea will not stop"; total control of the South China Sea would be what China strived for “by all means” because it is the only way for China to extend its reach in the sea to become a maritime power – an important foundation for the ambition of becoming the world's top superpower.

The researchers and former officials in the seminar proposed that Vietnam should bring the issue to some key international fora so the international community could understand the hegemonic nature of China, thus supporting Vietnam's legitimate to stop China's actions.

It is widely agreed at the seminar that Vietnam should be take tougher stand and use all measures in accordance with the UN Charter and international law to protect the waters under its sovereign rights and jurisdiction. Therefore, Vietnam should soon file a case against China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration like the Philippines did in 2013. Currently, Vietnam has all favorable conditions, namely “right timing, relevant context and people’ support”, to file a lawsuit against China’s blatant violation of Vietnam's rights and interests at sea which are determined in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

First of all, speaking of the right timing, it could be now the most suitable moment for Vietnam to file a lawsuit because China has pushed Vietnam to the corner. Over the past three months, Vietnam has persistently used the diplomatic channel to demand China to stop its violation, respect Vietnam's sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the South China Sea. However, China has even expanded and escalated instead of stopping the encroachment. When diplomatic measures do not work effectively, it is natural for Vietnam to take legal measures. This is consistent with the policy of peaceful settlement of disputes that Vietnam has always publicly affirmed.

Secondly, as for the relevant context, taking into account all perspectives, the area that the Haiyang Dizhi 8 group has been operating since the beginning of July 2019 fully belongs to Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction in accordance with the provisions of UNCLOS. In particular, the July 12, 2016 award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Philippines vs. China case in the South China Sea is a very important legal precedent. When the Philippines filed the case, many worried that the Arbitration Court had no authority to handle the case due to China's objection. However, so far Vietnam no longer has to worry about this since if the case only involves the interpretation and application of UNCLOS, the Arbitration Court under Annex VII of UNCLOS will have the authority to handle just as in the Philippines case.

Moreover, the July 12, 2016 award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected all China’s claims in the South China Sea, including those on the "nine-dash line" or exclusive economic zones and continental shelves based on the features in the Spratly Islands. This is an important basis that creates favorable conditions for Vietnam to win when filing the case against Chinese encroachment in Vietnamese waters.

Thirdly, on people’s supports, Vietnam has the legitimacy and upholds the rule of law. Vietnam asks for nothing beyond international law. Vietnam’s waters are defined in accordance with the provisions of UNCLOS. Vietnam has persistently put all its diplomatic efforts and shown its utmost goodwill with China for a long time. Vietnam's views on the South China Sea in general and on China’s violation since the beginning of July 2019 in particular have been widely supported by the international community.

Many countries, international experts and lawyers have strongly criticized China’s wrongdoings that ignore international law. No one from the international community raised voice to protect Chinese violation in Vietnam’s waters. China's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea has demonstrated to international community the hegemonic nature, the risks and threats from China. This is a favorable international condition for Vietnam to file a case against China on the South China Sea issue.

It is the Chinese violation that is creating opportunities for Vietnam to take legal measures. To keep showing its goodwill, Vietnam could speak to China honestly that “Vietnam has persistently taken diplomatic measures to settle the case. If China does not withdraw Haiyang Dizhi 8 group from the waters under Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction, Vietnam has no other choice but take the issue to the Permanent Arbitration Court”.

Vietnam needs to show a tougher stand against Chinese aggressive behavior. If Vietnam shows its soft side, China will further violate.