PANO – On 23rd June 2014, Ambassador Ning Fukui wrote on the Matichon Daily expressing his opinions on the issue of the South China Sea – called “the East Sea” by Vietnam. With a view to a better-informed public opinion on this particular issue, I would like to present here some facts and information to help the Daily’s readers have a more complete assessment of “Who is the trouble-maker in the South China Sea?”

First, the information Ambassador Ning used in his article to argue that Vietnam “disrupted” China’s activities was, in fact, copied from an article published on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website on 8th June 2014. However, I notice that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ representative has never been able to present any convincing and impartial evidence to support their viewpoint in this article as well as at other press conferences. In this information era, it is perhaps not difficult for Thai readers to verify any information from public and unbiased sources and see the truth behind Ambassador Ning’s statements.

In fact, China’s illegal deployment of its oil rig as well as the inhumane and aggressive actions of its escort vessels have been fully covered by many regional and international news agencies. International press commentators, scholars and politicians all share the opinion that China’s unilateral and provocative acts, which are against international law and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), triggered the current tension.

A Chinese ship preventing a Vietnamese coast guard ship from approaching the oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981.

 

Second, I can not agree with Ambassador Ning’s views that the Chinese government has consistently exercised its undisrupted and legitimate sovereignty over this archipelago since the mid-10th century. This view not only contradicts the history but also is based on no legal basis. Meanwhile Vietnam has full historical and legal evidences to prove its sovereignty over the Paracels. Vietnam was the first country to occupy and consistently exercise peaceful sovereignty over the Paracels, at least since the 17th century, when this territory was terra nullius. Vietnam’s Nguyen Kings also established militia teams known as the Hoang Sa group, to administer and develop the Paracels. Hoang Sa group was assigned to visit the Paracels anually to exploit natural resources, conduct surveys, plant trees, erect monuments, build pagodas, rescue seafaring vessels etc. All of these activities are noted in official documents.

I would like to stress that there were contradictions with history in Ambassador Ning’s statements. As far as I know, in 1898, when owners of Bellona and Himeji Maru ships demanded the Chinese authorities compensate as Chinese fishermen’s looting of these two ships while they were sank in the Paracels, Viceroy of Guangdong declared the Paracels was terra nullius, did not belong to China, had nothing to do with authorities of any Hainan’s districts in terms of administration and no authorities were responsible for this area. This is understandable because for a long period of time in history, Ming and Qing dynasties followed the policy of “haijin”, displaying their deep concern for maritime threats rather than a desire to move away from land and master the sea.

Based on this Chinese thinking regarding its sovereignty over the sea and the Paracels, a map drawn by Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville, a famous French cartographer, and published in Germany in the 18th century, only showed that the furthest point of China’s territory under the reign of Qianlong Emperor (1736 – 1795) was Hainan Island (without covering islands in the East Sea such as the Paracels). This map was presented to Chinese President Xi Jinping by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during Mr. Xi’s visit to Germany in March 2014.

At the same time, Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels was recognized in Chinese documents, such as the HaiwaiJishi (1696) or the Hailu (1820), and in international papers, such as the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1837) or the Journal of the Geographical Society of London (1849).

On legal ground, there exists no official international documents which mentioned the Paracels was regained by China from Japan in 1946 as stated by Ambassador Ning. On contrary, at the 1951 San Francisco Conference, the proposal requesting for Japan’s recognition of China’s sovereignty over the Paracels was rejected by 46 votes against among 51 participants. Also at this conference, Head of the Vietnamese Delegation, Prime Minister Tran Van Huu, asserted Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels without any objection. Later, the 1954 Geneva Conference on restoring peace in Indochina declared that parties concerned shall respect Vietnam’s independence and territorial integrity. This provision includes the Paracels which was under control of the French and the Republic of Vietnam.

Ambassador Ning stated that China undertook acts to “drive out” South Vietnamese forces from the Paracels. Yet, China, as a party to the 1954 Geneva Conference, must fully aware that Vietnam has sovereignty over the Paracels. As such, this was, in fact, an act of invasion by using force and strongly condemned by the Government of the Republic of Vietnam as well as the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. This could not constitute evidence for China to claim sovereignty as stated in the Memorandum of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 12th May 1988 and published in the People’s Daily on the same day.

Third, Ambassador Ning said that the operation of Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig this time was an extension of the existing drilling progress over the last 10 years and located within the sovereignty and jurisdiction of China, of which Vietnam had no right to comment nor interfere nor obstruct. However, the illegal acts undertaken by China, such as explorations and surveys, within the Vietnam’s waters in the East Sea over the last 10 years, have always been opposed by Vietnam through various means and at different levels. In addition, against China’s uncooperative attitude and its serious violation of Vietnam’s legitimate rights in the East Sea, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson strongly condemned China’s actions on 5th August 2010. Vietnam’s strong objection against Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig’s activities this time can be seen as a measure to protect its own home garden and trees from her neighbor’s illegal attempt to occupy.

In reality, China’s illegal deployment of Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig is located 60-80 nautical miles deep within the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam. This violates of Vietnam’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction, as stipulated for by the 1982 UNCLOS, to which both Vietnam and China are parties. Ambassador Ning claimed that Haiyan Shiyou 981 oil rig was located within the territorial waters of “Xisha Islands” (Hoang Sa Archipelago of Vietnam), for it was 17 nautical miles away from the baseline of this archipelago and 120-140 nautical miles from the Vietnamese baseline. China’s drawing around the “Xisha Islands” is invalid and runs counter to the 1982 UNCLOS. I would like to add that China did not keep its words by ignoring Deng Xiao Ping’s statement in September 1975 that Vietnam and China would negotiate to settle the sovereignty over Hoang Sa Archipelago, as recorded in the 12th May 1988 Memorandum of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

To assist the illegal activities of Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig, China employed a large amount of ships and airplanes, reaching 140 vessels sometimes, including modern armed warships to obstruct Vietnamese coast guard and fishery surveillance vessels from conducting their normal activities in the Vietnamese waters. Within 10 nautical miles from the oil rig, Chinese ships rammed and fired water cannon at Vietnamese vessels, causing injury to dozens of Vietnamese fishery surveillance officers and fishermen and damaging many Vietnamese law enforcement ships. It is even inhumane that after sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in Vietnam’s EEZ, Chinese ships also prevented Vietnamese vessels from rescuing the 10 crew members of the sinking boat.

China‘s actions severely violate international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, the DOC as well as agreements between leaders of the two countries. This is no longer a bilateral issue between Vietnam and China but a threat to security, safety, freedom of navigation and regional stability. Therefore, other countries around the world have echoed Vietnam, expressed concerns and demanded China immediately put an end to its provocative actions.

Finally, in his article, Ambassador Ning stated: “China is a big country with responsibility” and “We don’t cause troubles and have the least wish to see any instability in our neighborhood”. But what really worries me is that Chinese actions in Haiyang Shiyou 981 incident as I have recounted display a large gap between their words and actions. Nonetheless, I welcome Ambassador Ning’s statement that: “China will do whatever it takes to deescalate tension.” I believe that China’s immediate withdrawal of Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig and its escort vessels out of the Vietnamese waters and cooperation with Vietnam to resolve relevant legal issues would be the most meaningful solution. Regarding this last point, I believe Ambassador Ning and I should make use of our knowledge and understanding on the current dispute surrounding Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig in the East Sea to make appropriate recommendations to competent agencies in each country, including proposals to the two governments to submit their historical evidences and legal arguments to an international tribunal for a decision rather than merely presenting views through the media. China’s agreement to use peaceful means to settle this dispute, and more importantly, their compliance with the ruling of an international tribunal, are concrete actions to persuade small countries like Vietnam and Thailand to believe that China is truly “a big country with responsibility”.

Nguyen Tat Thanh (Ambassador of Vietnam in Thailand)

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