Vietnam has officially opposed China’s announcement on military exercises to be carried out in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is at the heart of a land and water dispute between China, the United States and much of Southeast Asia. China’s claim to the region is historic going back to the Xia and Han dynasties. The US has maintained that region was part of the international waters. Other countries that are disputing South China Sea include, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
One of the reasons why the South China Sea is so vital to these countries is due to the strategic advantage it provides. If China had complete control of the region, then it would be able to control a major trade route. It would be able to disrupt trade shipments that pass through this region to East and Southeast Asia. Currently, $5.3 trillion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea.
In the recent years, countries like Philippines and Malaysia have stepped away from actively contesting China’s actions in the South China Sea. This is partly because the President of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte is focused on the nation’s ongoing war on drug trafficking and Malaysia is embroiled in political scandals involving large scale corruption. Indonesia has seemingly taken a middle ground and nations like Singapore have been diplomatically bullied into silence by China.
However, Vietnam has remained steadfast in its opposition to China. In June, the Vietnamese government refused to heed China’s demand in halt drilling by a subsidiary of Spanish company Repsol in an oil and gas block on Vanguard Bank. This area is considered to be part of Vietnam as per international law. The country has also actively requested India to weigh in on the issue and provide its support in the matter. In July, Vietnam had to cave into pressure from Beijing and suspended oil drilling in offshore waters also claimed by China.
US has also often clashed with China regarding this issue.
Vietnam has said that it was concerned over the exercises in the Gulf of Tonkin area, at the north end of the South China Sea. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said, “Vietnam proposes China to cease and refrain from repeating acts that complicate the situation in the East Sea.” The East Sea is the name that Vietnam uses while referring to the South China Sea.
China has in the meantime responded with a guarded statement requesting Vietnam to view the situation “rationally.” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “The relevant sea is under China’s jurisdiction. “We hope the relevant side can calmly and rationally view it.” China has also asserted that it has every right to conduct these drills and that there was a part of routine exercises.
The exercises are being conducted between August 29th and September 4th, 2017.
Our assessment is that tensions between China and Vietnam are more fraught than they have been in over three years. China is increasingly worried about the fact Vietnam has increased its military engagements with countries like India, Japan and the US.