News from Vietnam’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, The South China Morning Post and Rappler
On 11 December 2014, in response to the question on Viet Nam’s position regarding the South China Sea Arbitration case, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam Le Hai Binh affirmed that:
“To protect its legal rights and interests in the East Sea which may be affected in the South China Sea Arbitration case, Viet Nam has expressed its position to the Tribunal regarding this case, and requested the Tribunal to pay due attention to the legal rights and interests of Viet Nam.”
According to the South China Morning Post, Vietnam sent a statement to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague last Friday, making three main claims in clear opposition to China’s stand.
First, it stated that it recognised that the court had jurisdiction over the case submitted by the Philippines, in direct contradiction to China’s own recently reiterated position that it had no such authority.
Second, it asked the court to give “due regard” to Vietnam’s legal rights and interests in the Spratleys, Paracels, and in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf when deciding on the merits of the Philippine case.
Finally, it also rejected the Chinese nine-dash line demarcation – the basis of Chinese claims to ownership of the vast spread of the South China Sea – saying that it was “without legal basis”.
On the Vietnamese submission, Xinhua reported Chinese spokesman Hong as saying: “China urges Vietnam to earnestly respect our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and resolve relevant disputes regarding Nansha with China on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law so as to jointly maintain peace and stability on the South China Sea.”
In its position paper issued last weekend, China said it would “neither accept nor participate in the arbitration” as it believed a UN tribunal had no jurisdiction over a territorial dispute between countries.
Sources told the Post that Vietnam lodged the statement to the courts to protect its own interests, in the event that it might decide to take up the case at a future date.
A source said that the statement lodged at the courts “is as much to protect Vietnamese interests vis-à-vis the Philippines as it is directed against China and tilted slightly in the latter direction”.
Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, in Canberra, who has studied the South China Sea issue, said that Vietnam’s decision to recognise the PCA’s jurisdiction would “inflame” China.
It opened the door for Vietnam to be involved in the hearing by the PCA to explain its interests and thus “it’s a cheap way of getting into the back door without joining the Philippines’ case”.
By challenging the nine-dash line, he said that Vietnam had put itself in alignment with the United States’ State Department, which recently questioned the legality of China’s claims.
China and Vietnam were involved in a tense stand-off earlier this year when China placed an oil rig in the disputed waters near the Paracels, prompting Vietnam to send ships to try and disrupt its operations.
China later removed the rig earlier than it planned.
Analysts said ties had returned to a more even keel since then – until this latest move by Vietnam.
A source who said that Sino-Vietnamese relations had improved, said that strong party-to-party ties between the countries have helped.
Regarding the latest move by Vietnam, the source said: “There is reportedly no consensus in the Vietnamese Politburo on this subject. This is probably as far as the Politburo is prepared to go.”
Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Charles Jose said in response, “We are studying Vietnam’s submission and its possible implications.”