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Development and Settlement of Disputes

Rebalancing: Vietnam’s South China Sea Challenges and Responses

Author: Tran Truong Thuy

National Asian Security Studies Program Issue Brief No. 2.3 December 2016

The following are excerpts of the paper:


The South China Sea persists as the leading security and development challenge for Vietnam. In Hanoi’s view, the situation in the South China Sea affects almost all aspects of national security and development: protecting territorial integrity and national sovereignty; promoting maritime economic development; maintaining an external peaceful environment and, in particular, peaceful relationships with China and other claimants; and safeguarding regime legitimacy and internal stability. This paper analyses Vietnam’s approaches to the current situation in the South China Sea in seeking to achieve its main objectives, and examines the state’s responses with reference to the interactions among relevant states and organisations.


There are four prevailing issues that Vietnam needs to address in the South China Sea disputes: (i) its sovereignty claim over ‘land features’ in the Spratlys; (ii) sovereignty over ‘land features’ in the Paracels; (iii) sovereignty rights and jurisdiction within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, including management and use of hydrocarbon, mineral resources, and other living resources, especially fishing; (iv) and protecting fishermen and their vessels operating in the overlapping areas of claims, particularly around the Paracel Islands.



Vietnam’s policy of combining engagement and soft and hard balancing in dealing with China’s assertive strategy in the South China Sea is still widely considered as the most effective strategy to defend Vietnam’s national interests while simultaneously preserving a non-confrontational and peaceful relationship with China, enhancing Vietnam’s role within ASEAN, and promoting cooperation with other major powers including the US, Japan, and other SCS stakeholders. Vietnam’s strategic room for maneuver has not yet reached its limits, particularly with regards to two specific directions: using the channel of international law, and promoting cooperation with other stakeholders. If other soft and hard balancing measures cannot help Vietnam to deter Chinese encroachment on its national interests, Hanoi might seriously consider using legal means as the last peaceful resort. Treading a thin line between China and the US, Vietnam will develop its relationships with the US to the extent that they do not court confrontation with China. China’s policy towards Vietnam in the SCS will be a determining factor in Vietnam’s policy of maintaining an appropriate balance between nurturing bonds with the US and maintaining cordial ties with China.

Download the full publication at https://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au [PDF]

Related articles: 

Development and Settlement of Disputes: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/development-and-settlement-of-disputes/


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