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Legal actions against China – a magic wand for Vietnam

 Defying Vietnam’s request, China has failed to withdraw its floating drilling rig Haiyang Shiyou-981 from Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, and experts say using legal actions against China’s illegal move is a practical option for Vietnam.

Dr Nguyen Toan Thang from the Hanoi Law University says Vietnam has the right to sue China for violating its sovereignty in the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

He says Vietnam has sufficient legal basis to assert that Haiyang Shiyou-981 has been placed deep inside its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. It can sue China in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

China positioned its oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981 deep inside Vietnam's exclusive economic zone - a clear violation of the territory of a sovereign nation
China positioned its oil rig Haiyang Shiyou-981 deep inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone – a clear violation of the territory of a sovereign nation

China’s illegal placement of the oil rig and its provocative attitude towards Vietnam is a clear violation of international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS. Accordingly, China violates Vietnam’s sovereign right and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone. Its action runs counter to the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC).

Dr Nguyen Thi Thuan from the Hanoi Law University says China makes a thorough preparation for its sovereign ambition scheme, but evidence it gives is fabricated.

One of arguments China often uses to justify its illegal activities in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, is a note that Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong sent to Chinese Premier Chou Enlai in 1958.

China has tried very hard to rationalize that the note was Vietnam’s recognition of China’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos, known as Xisha and Nansha in Chinese.

According to Dr. Tran Cong Truc, former Head of the Government Border Committee, the note did not say that Vietnam recognized China’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos.

“The 1954 Geneva Agreement recognized the Republic of Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as two political entities, which were equal in international relations and territorial sovereignty,” Truc says.

“Geographically, Hoang Sa and Truong Sa were on the southern side of parallel 17, so they were controlled by the Republic of Vietnam, which perpetuated Vietnam’s continuous, peaceful and real sovereignty over these archipelagos,” he adds.

Vietnamese coat guards keep a close watch on Chinese ships deployed to protect the oil rig

Dr Nguyen Ba Dien, director of the Centre for the Sea and International Marine Law under the Hanoi-based National University, says China’s sovereign ambition is endless and Vietnam must be well prepared for a tough legal struggle with ample evidence and persuasive arguments.

Vietnam has no choice but to use legal actions as an effect tool for settling this case, Dien tells VOV online.

“Bringing China to the international arbitration court is a strong political measure. It is obviously difficult, but it cannot be undone,” he says, adding China does not have any legal basis to justify its claim.

Lawyer Truong Trong Nghia, vice president of the Vietnam Bar Association, echoes Dien’s view, saying China’s claim of its sovereignty over Vietnam’s Hoang Sa is groundless and a legal tool is a must for Vietnam.

In his opinion, this legal struggle will certainly last a long time because it follows complex international principles and requires great expertise, both domestically and internationally. To ensure the success, it needs to garner additional international support.

Former French General Jean-Vincent Brisset and experts from Harvard University and University of Massachusetts-Boston suggested that Vietnam bring China to the international arbitration court as an effective way of dealing with China’s violation of international law.

Addressing the recent World Economic Forum on East Asia in Myanmar, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung did not rule out the possibility of using self-defence options, including legal actions, to defend its sovereignty.

Vietnam cherishes peace and exercises restraint from disputes, especially with China – a close and friendly neighbour. In defiance of Vietnam’s goodwill, China has constantly made slanderous allegations to defend its wrongful act. Vietnam will resort to legal actions to quibble, and it believes justice is on its side.