The 7th annual International Workshop on East Vietnam Sea issues kicked off in the southern Vietnamese city of Vung Tau on Monday, at which an Indian strategic affairs expert said China is challenging order in the maritime area.
The two-day event, jointly held by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, the Foundation for East Vietnam Sea Studies, and the Vietnam Lawyers’ Association, was aimed at providing a platform for scholars to share information and evaluate the recent happenings and their related consequences in the waters.
Speaking at the workshop, Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, expressed his worry that the East Vietnam Sea, with many busy maritime routes, are facing risks of serious clashes.
Recent tensions in the sea area have stemmed from China unilaterally altering the maritime and territorial status quo there, Prof. Chellaney said.
“China is challenging order in the East Vietnam Sea,” he stressed.
The professor advised that there should be a systematic and strategic vision for the sea and that only laws can ensure freedom of navigation.
Most of the other scholars at the event agreed that China has taken many actions causing rapid changes to the status quo in the East Vietnam Sea.
Sukjoon Yoon, a retired navy captain and senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy, said that the sea area is dogged by prejudice and a lack of trust.
It is fortunate that there have not been signs of military confrontation and that related countries are still ready for negotiation, Sukjoon said.
Meanwhile, Liselotte Odgaard, an associate professor at the Institute for Strategy of Royal Danish Defense College, said that while many countries in the area avoid confrontation, China’s deterrence policy is still worrying.
It is too early to talk about the result of the lawsuit pursued by the Philippines against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Assoc. Prof. Odgaard told VnExpress newspaper.
She also commented that the U.S. has its own concern since it has got deeply involved in the East Vietnam Sea.
Sharing the same view with the Danish expert, Anton Tsvetov, a media and government relations manager at the Russian International Affairs Council, recommended that countries in Southeast Asia be prudent when dealing with China’s response to the increasing presence of the U.S. in the region.
Chinese scholar’s argument rejected
Prof. Shen Dingli, an associate dean at the Institute of International Studies under Fudan University, said China is becoming a powerful nation and it has increasingly influenced the world.
He argued that the world condemns China for violating laws with its construction activities in the East Vietnam Sea while other countries have built features there as well.
Vietnam and the Philippines have constructed their outposts in the sea area, Prof. Shen claimed.
Prof. Shen admitted that Beijing and Hanoi have been involved in some clashes of different nature in the past time, and that bilateral negotiation is necessary for mutual understanding before carrying out any multilateral consultation.
He added that China will never pursue hegemony, accusing Washington of seeking hegemony over the sea and air in the East Vietnam Sea.
However, many delegates, including Indian Prof. Chellaney, rejected Prof. Shen’s statements, considering them a smokescreen.
Prof. Nguyen Manh Hung, a visiting senior fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, told VnExpress that Prof. Shen had tried to protect China’s inherent points of view.
Beijing has insisted that bilateral negotiation be conducted before any multilateral one could be carried out, Prof. Hung said.
“When related countries requested that China elaborate on this point, it deliberately neglected the request,” the professor added.
In his speech at the event, Dang Dinh Quy, president of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, said that tension in the East Vietnam Sea has jeopardized not only one of the major maritime shipping lanes in the world but also the lives and livelihoods of millions of fishermen who have worked for long in their traditional fishing grounds in the sea.