Hanoi should carefully follow the development of Washington’s plan to send military aircraft and ships to the waters around Chinese-made artificial islands in the East Vietnam Sea, a Vietnamese ex-official in charge of border affairs has said.
Dr. Tran Cong Truc, former chief of the government’s Border Committee and a researcher on the East Vietnam Sea, made the statement in his article published by VnExpress newspaper on Thursday.
The article was released after a U.S. official said on Tuesday that the Pentagon is mulling over a plan to send military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around rapidly growing Chinese-made artificial islands in the disputed sea.
Reuters quoted the official as saying on condition of anonymity that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had requested options that include sending warships and aircraft within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of reefs that China has been building up in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago.
“We are considering how to demonstrate freedom of navigation in an area that is critical to world trade,” the official said, adding that any option would need to be approved by the White House.
Regarding this plan, Dr. Truc said, “We firstly need to verify the purpose of this plan. What are the specific tasks of the U.S. military ships and aircraft to be sent to the East Vietnam Sea? And where exactly are these forces to be deployed in the sea?”
“In my opinion, this is a rather sensitive and very complicated issue given the current regional and international context, especially what is taking place in the East Vietnam Sea. Therefore, any response to it must be taken prudently and responsibly, for the sake of Southeast Asia and the world in general,” Dr. Truc said.
The East Vietnam Sea is the common waters of the whole region, not the sea of any specific country, he said, adding that in the middle of the sea are the Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelagos under Vietnam’s sovereignty.
China has illegally occupied a part of Truong Sa and the whole of Hoang Sa by force and Beijing is now constructing works including airport runways and military bases there, Dr. Truc said.
Meanwhile, parts of Truong Sa have also been occupied by other forces, leading to a complicated sovereignty dispute.
Therefore, if the U.S. sends planes and warships to the waters under the sovereignty of the related countries without their permission, then its actions are completely wrongful, the ex-official said.
Dr. Truc said that Washington does not accept the fact that Beijing is trying to use the construction on a number of reefs in Truong Sa as a means to claim its territorial sovereignty over them.
Vietnam should continue to watch the U.S. plan so that the country can take a proper response to it, he suggested.
If that plan complies with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and for the sake of maritime safety and security and navigational freedom prevents acts that violate the legitimate rights and interests of related parties in the East Vietnam Sea, then Vietnam will support it, he said.
But if that plan serves military purposes, cause conflict and unrest, and is dedicated to scrambling for power in the East Vietnam Sea, damaging peace, security and stability in the sea area, then Vietnam, as well as other countries, will strongly object to and take measures to cope with it, Dr. Truc warned.