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Vietnam’s strategic interests in East Vietnam Seas/South China Sea

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Vietnam assumed the chairmanship of the UN Security Council in March 2021 and it is expected to raise issues related to the development and security challenges in different theatres.

While carrying out the responsibilities as the chairperson it is expected to also raise issues which concerned its own interest particularly sovereignty over Paracels and Spratly islands. One of the primary areas of interest includes developments in the East Vietnam Sea or the South China Sea, and how China is making assertive postures by deploying its advance ships as well as coast guards patrol boats to demarcate the area of his its influence and control. In this context the developments which have been seen in Whitsun reef is a matter of concern, and if this continues then China would be outlining its strategic maritime space, de facto, where there will not be any claims of the ASEAN claimant countries. The Chinese imposed maritime order which includes creating fictitious Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), controlled fishing zones as well as outlining areas which would be banned fishing areas for the fishermen of other countries. This would create problems among the claimant countries as China is trying hard to command and control areas such as Reed bank, Vanguard Bank and other adjoining areas which belong to Indonesia, and Philippines. 

Acknowledging the fact that the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea has not taken shape and still in a very formative stages where almost all claimant countries have claimed parts of or complete areas in the  South China Sea. In this context, it is critical that the ASEAN nations should resolve their differences and workout a common draft which would outline zones of control and cooperation. On the other hand, Vietnam can call all the countries to stop construction activities and create South China Sea as the Zone of Peace, Freedom, And Neutrality. Also, it can invite international observers and develop better channels with the international media-persons so as to highlight ecological disaster that China is bringing to those islands. Vietnam can also undertake joint sails with other countries to define freedom of navigation and rightful claim to exploitation of resources coming under the Exclusive Economic Zones. 

Apart from this Vietnam can engage a large scale dialogue between the ASEAN countries involving academics, media-persons, strategic thinkers and international legal experts so as to resolve the impasse with the Chinese in the long run.  Vietnam can initiate safety markers in the region which can outline navigational safety and ensure safe passage of ships. The ASEAN countries could develop and synchronise their historical narrative so as to expose Chinese history in this context. With regards to extended continental shelf there is need for dialogue at the highest platforms such as UNSC and also initiate a side meeting during the deliberations in the international sea bed authority. This would create a comprehensive counter narrative to the Chinese claims and help the international community to keep tab of the developments in this region. Vietnam should also highlight that how nagging issues such as Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks, South Ledgeand the Horsburgh Lighthouse have been resolved between Singapore and Malaysia, at the same time India has accepted to Bangladesh’s maritime claims in the Bay of Bengal region. The narrative which should be germinating in this context should be sound and should open new ideas so that this issue could be resolved within a time frame. Vietnam can also Commission an international committee of experts who can suggest viable changes in the code of conduct draft which can be acceptable to all the claimant countries. Lastly, Vietnam has to take leadership role highlighting these issues at the right forums and therefore this contentious issue should be addressed in a proper way.

Apart from these there is a need for another unified proposition from the ASEAN countries with regards to the territorial seas in the South China Sea islands and why the international community should undertake oil exploration activities in the region as the retreat of many oil companies would outline the fact that China dominates the maritime space. Also there should be a Coastguard forum which could look into the peaceful resolution of disputes. Also the forthcoming meeting of ASEAN could look into the drafts of CoC and suggest minimum common acceptance in this context .The ADMM plus meeting and the related meeting should look into meeting certain objectives such as constraining naval exercises in the region form all major players. China has been highlighting that the exercises have vitiated the atmosphere and have created a sense of tension.

In conclusion one can say that there is a need for sensitisation of the international community and also getting commitment from all players so that SCS should not become a theatre of intense military rivalry and tension which would impact the livelihood of fishermen and also maritime trade and commerce for all the countries in its periphery.

By Prof. Pankaj Jha – ModernDiplomacy.eu – May 17, 2021

Vietnam’s strategic interests in East Vietnam Seas/South China Sea
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