As China has illegally deployed an oil rig in Vietnam’s waters since early this month, in addition to other similar violations in the past, Vietnam can file at least two lawsuits against China in international courts, a senior Vietnamese lawyer has said.
Accordingly, the Vietnamese government can challenge the Chinese government to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, while the Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) can sue the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) – which operates the drilling platform – to a civil court in Vietnam, lawyer Hoang Ngoc Giao, head of the Research Institute for Policy, Law, and Development, told VnExpress in a recent interview.
By planting the oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HD 981) in Vietnamese waters in the East Vietnam Sea, China has violated Vietnam’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, and for this violation, Vietnam can sue China to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Giao said.
The tribunal was established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) to which China is a signatory, he added.
The UNCLOS governs maritime disputes on overlapping maritime zones like overlapping territorial seas, EEZs, and extended continental shelves.
It provides for a compulsory dispute settlement mechanism over maritime disputes among its member states, including disputes involving the interpretation or application of the provisions of the UNCLOS.
Under this mechanism, a suit filed to the tribunal will be handled despite a refusal by any of the related parties, Giao said.
The Philippines has relied on the procedures when it filed a lawsuit on territorial disputes on March 30, 2014, challenging China before the tribunal, which is handling the suit, Giao said.
As previously reported, China has deployed the oil rig at a location of 15°29’58’’ North latitude and 111°12’06’’ East longitude in Vietnamese waters in the East Vietnam Sea since May 1, and dispatched as many as 80 vessels, including warships, to guard the rig.
This location, as announced by the Chinese, is completely within the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam, as it lies about 120 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast and 18 nautical miles south of Tri Ton Island of Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago, according to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Under the UNCLOS, coastal states like Vietnam are entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone from the base line.
Vietnam has full legal and historical evidence to prove its sovereign right and jurisdiction over the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in compliance with regulations in the UNCLOS, the ministry said.
PetroVietnam can sue CNOOC
On May 4, PetroVietnam sent a letter to the President and CEO of CNOOC, strongly opposing its operation of the oil rig and resolutely demanding the corporation cease the illegal action immediately and move the HD 981 drilling rig out of Vietnam’s waters.
The above action of CNOOC was against the cooperative spirit between the two national oil and gas groups, the practice of international oil activities, and the motto of friendship and cooperation between Vietnam and China, PetroVietnam said.
If CNOOC does not remove the rig, PetroVietnam can sue CNOOC in a civil court in Vietnam for damage caused by the Chinese Corporation to the Vietnamese group, lawyer Giao said.
A Vietnamese court has full authority to try the case, issue its judgment, and apply a forcible verdict execution when necessary, he added.
Under judgment of such a court, Chinese ships that have engaged in oil and gas exploration in Vietnamese territorial waters can be seized to ensure the execution of a verdict issued by the court, he pointed out.
Hoang Sa issue
Regarding the Hoang Sa issue, lawyer Giao said, “The entire world knows that China used force to attack and occupy the archipelago of Vietnam 40 years ago. This act violated Vietnam’s territorial sovereignty and the United Nations Charter.”
As the UNCLOS does not govern territorial disputes, which are sovereignty or ownership issues over land territory like islands or rocks above water at high tide, Vietnam can take legal action against China to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which settles territorial disputes, the lawyer said.
However, such a lawsuit cannot be immediately proceeded with, as Vietnam needs to prepare a complete suit file including all necessary evidence and materials that prove the country’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the archipelago.
The ICJ was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations (UN) and began work in April 1946 as the principal judicial organ of the UN, Giao said.
However, according to the ICJ’s regulations, the court can handle the case only when both the plaintiff and defendant accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction.
It is anticipated that China will not agree for the dispute to be handled by the ICJ, and when this is the case, the court will not handle the lawsuit filed by Vietnam.
However, when this happens, a question will be raised in the international community that if China has full evidence to prove its sovereignty over Hoang Sa, why does it refuse to have the case settled by the ICJ?
The world will also come to the conclusion that China’s grounds and evidence on which it declares its sovereignty over Hoang Sa are unreliable, Giao said.
At the same time, by challenging China to the ICJ, Vietnam has the opportunity to show the international community its self-confidence and determination to protect its territorial sovereignty as well as irrefutable evidence on the country’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa, the lawyer said.
As announced by the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vietnam has full legal and historical evidence to prove its sovereignty over both Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos in the East Vietnam Sea, the lawyer added.