May, 12 2014 08:20:00

Rising East Sea tensions cause for concern

Referring to China's illegal placement of an oil rig in Vietnamese waters, Viet Nam Marine Police Commander rear admiral Nguyen Quang Dam said on 9 May that China had so far deployed 79 vessels to protect the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig area, including three military ships.

HA NOI (VNS) — International organisations, governments and experts have continued expressing concern over China's latest provocative actions in the East Sea.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "urges the parties concerned to exercise the utmost restraint and resolve their dispute in a peaceful manner, through dialogue and in conformity with international law, including the UN Charter about the escalating tensions in the East," his deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said during a briefing at the UN Headquarters in New York.

India has also been following the recent developments in the East Sea with concern.

"We believe that maintenance of peace, stability, growth and prosperity in the region is of vital interest to the international community," said a spokesperson from India's Ministry of External Affairs. "We would like to see resolution of the issue through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law."

Dr. Subhash Kapila, senior fellow at South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG), said China ‘s coercive and brinkmanship behaviour in Viet Nam's waters was provocative and irresponsible.

"It is unbecoming of an Asian power professing to be a ‘responsible stakeholder' in Asian security and stability," he told a Vietnam News Agency correspondent in New Delhi. "It should also be an eye-opener for the United States, which continues to perceive China as a country that can be brought around to act responsibly in terms of Asian security and stability".

The oil rig incident was also a wake-up call for ASEAN to unite to cope with the ‘China Threat', which is likely to engulf the whole of Southeast Asia, the scholar added.

India-Viet Nam Solidarity Committee President Geetesh Sharma said the expansionist and hegemonic policy of the Chinese Government was no hidden agenda. Rather, China had time and again bullied neighbouring countries like Viet Nam.

"We appeal to the Government of China to exercise restraint and come to the negotiation table, abiding by international law and precedent," he said, urging all peace-loving forces throughout Asia to condemn unequivocally the recent acts of intrusion.

A bipartisan group of US senators issued a joint statement condemning China's recent acts to escalate tensions in the East Sea on May 9.

Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ben Cardin, Jim Risch and John McCain, all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were joined by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont.

They urged their colleagues in the Senate to pass a resolution reaffirming the US government's support for freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific region and for the peaceful diplomatic solution of outstanding territorial and maritime disputes.

China's recent movement of the oil rig into the East Sea and the subsequent aggressive tactics used by Chinese ships, including the ramming of Vietnamese ships, was "deeply troubling", the statement said, adding that these actions threatened the free flow of global commerce in a vital region.

Meanwhile, US scholar Taylor Fravel said China's placement of the oil rig in the East Sea was for political purposes.

Economically, the area where the rig was drilling had few proven hydrocarbon reserves, the associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told the New York Times. Moreover, the US$1 billion rig was extremely expensive to operate on a daily basis.

"China is most likely using the rig to assert and exercise its jurisdiction over the waters it claims in the sea," he said.

The professor affirmed that the rig was located within Viet Nam's exclusive economic zone.

"China's action can only harden the perception among other states with claims in the South China Sea that China harbors aggressive intentions and preference for unilateral action," he stated.

Nevertheless, Chinese actions in the past few years, such as inviting foreign oil companies to invest in exploration blocks off the coast of Viet Nam, indicated that China might favour a more expansive definition, he concluded.

Drilling excuse rejected

A former Vietnamese official denounced China's claim that its dispatch of an oil rig to the East Sea was a "normal activity".

In an article, former head of the National Boundary Commission Tran Cong Truc made it clear that the rig was located within Viet Nam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. China chose this sensitive area to maintain its groundless sovereignty claim over the so-called Xisha Island by intentionally interpreting the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in an incorrect way, he said.

The article went on to argue that the act was part of China's effort to materialise its self-proclaimed and unreasonable "nine-dot" territorial claim in the waters, which involved creating disputes in order to encourage the idea of setting aside those disputes to pursue joint development.

In 1974, he said, China used its armed forces to grab Viet Nam's Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago, over which it claimed historic sovereignty. In response, Viet Nam asserted that it was the only state in history to have exercised sovereignty over this archipelago since the 17th century. Viet Nam had demonstrated this sovereignty obviously, continuously and peacefully and in conformity with international law concerning the settlement of territorial disputes among nations. Moreover, he wrote, Viet Nam had full historical legal grounds to prove and safeguard its sovereignty over the island.

It was time for Viet Nam to consider taking legal proceedings against China to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in line with mechanisms provided in the UNCLOS, he stated. — VNS

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