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Viet Nam refutes China’s false island claims as tensions continue to simmer

HA NOI  (VNS) – Viet Nam yesterday reaffirmed its legal authority over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos, refuting various Chinese claims that historical accounts might suggest otherwise.

Speaking at an international press conference held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, Tran Duy Hai, deputy head of Viet Nam’s National Border Committee, said that a diplomatic note written by former North Viet Nam Prime Minister Pham Van Dong in 1958 did not affect the sovereignty of the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Hai Binh (right) answers questions at a press conference
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Hai Binh (right) answers questions at a press conference

In 1958, China issued a declaration defining its territorial waters.

Dong, Democratic Republic of Viet Nam’s Prime Minister at the time, sent a diplomatic note to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.

The Chinese interpreted this as recognising China’s sovereignty over the two groups of islands, but Hai said yesterday that the note only recognised China’s 12 nautical miles territorial waters at the time and instructed Viet Nam’s State agencies to respect that, but did not mention the Spratly and Paracel Islands, as they were not under the North’s jurisdiction.

After the Geneva Conference on Restoring Peace in Indochina, July 21, 1954, Viet Nam was divided and the two archipelagos were under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Viet Nam (South Viet Nam) which declared its rights over the islands and exercised the rights in practice.

He added that since the 17th century, Viet Nam had exercised its sovereignty over the two archipelagos in a continuous and peaceful manner and according to international law.

Hai noted that at the San Francisco Conference held in 1951, 46 our of 51 nations attending objected China’s claim on the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

Also at this conference, a delegation from Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai declared Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the two islands and this did not meet any objections, Hai said.

When China used force to occupy Viet Nam’s Hoang Sa in 1974, the Republic of Viet Nam and the then Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Viet Nam both protested the move, Hai said, noting that the United Nations Charter and international law prohibit the use of force to violate the territory of other countries.

China’s memorandum issued on May 12, 1988 – an official document by the Chinese Foreign Ministry – also clearly confirmed a basic principle of international law that “invasion does not produce sovereignty” over a territory, Hai stressed.

Regarding the present situation, Hai said Viet Nam had consistently demanded China remove its oil rig and vessels.

He called on both sides to refrain from any military involvement.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, head of the International Law and Treaty Department under the foreign ministry, said as a member of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Viet Nam had every right to take legal action against China in accordance with international law.

Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of the Viet Nam Marine Police, said that three weeks after China put its oil rig in Vietnamese waters, Viet Nam had still not taken any action that could escalate the situation.

Do Van Hau, general director of Petro Viet Nam, also rejected China’s claim on May 16 that Viet Nam had 37 oil rigs set up in the disputed waters.

Hau said all drilling and exploratory activities by Petro Viet Nam and its partners were conducted within the country’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

US support

The United States has said it would back Ha Noi in taking legal action against China to resolve dispute.

China has illegally installed an oil rig in Viet Nam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

At a press conference in Washington on Thursday, White House spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said the US supported the use of peaceful measures to address the current tensions.

He said the US had a national interest in maintaining peace and stability in the region, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce – and freedom of navigation and flight over the South China Sea (East Sea).

He said the US supported the use of diplomatic and other peaceful measures to solve the disagreement, including the use of arbitration or other international legal mechanisms.

The same day, Vietnamese scholars in the US said now was a suitable time for Viet Nam to take the issue to an international court.

They said the nation must consult legal experts in order to establish firm legal grounds for the move.

Dr. Ngo Nhu Binh, Director of the Vietnamese Language Programme at Harvard University, told Vietnam News Agency in New York that experts in many countries did not accept China’s claim of the nine-dot line around the East Sea.

Chinese expansionism

Meanwhile, the Liaison Association for Overseas Vietnamese has issued a statement in the United States protesting against China’s behaviour.

It said China’s action was extremely dangerous and gravely violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea to which China was a signatory.

The association added that this also ran counter to bilateral agreements reached by high-level officials in the two countries and threatened maritime security and safety in the East Sea.

It demanded that China remove its rig, armed ships and aircraft out of Viet Nam’s territory and called on it to respect bilateral and multilateral agreements on the East Sea.

The statement added that since the beginning of May, Viet Nam had exercised utmost restraint, shown every gesture of goodwill and exhausted all dialogue channels to communicate with Chinese authorities..

Nevertheless China had not only failed to respond to Viet Nam’s demands, but had been slandering and blaming Viet Nam while continuing to escalate the use of force and acts of violation in an increasingly dangerous and serious manner. — VNS