“One of the crucial issues to maintain the peace and stability in the region is to distinguish the truly conflicted areas with truly non-conflicted ones.”
Gerhard Will from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs told Deutsche Welle that Vietnam not following a coherent line was a major problem.
The biggest problem on the South China Sea issue is probably the ambiguity of the China’s nine-dashed line map which China submitted for the first time to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2009. This map (also known as U-shaped map or cow-tongue map) is vague because it does not contain any precise geographical coordinates of the lines, or explain how these lines were linked. The most serious problem is that China’s claim cuts well deeply into the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of littoral states. Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, all coastal states were given the right to establish a 200 nautical mile EEZ from their shorelines. They were given sovereignty over all the resources within this area including in the sea and seabed.
China chose tactics to leave its claims unclear. China has never specified the meaning of the U-shaped map: whether this map claims the sovereignty over all of the islands and features, or all the maritime domain as China’s territorial waters? China also chose to remain tacit regarding the status of many features in the Spratlys and Paracels. This is a crucial point since islands under UNCLOS were entitled to a 200 nautical mile EEZ. This entitlement is not given to other features found at sea, including rocks, reefs, islets, sandbanks.
The ambiguity ofChina’s claim creates confusion for its neighbors in the region. Due to the fact that the U-shaped map does not contain the precise geographical coordinates of the lines its contour can be shifted at will; even can cut quite close to the shorelines of littoral states. As a result, any action of other littoral states in the region conducted in their EEZs established by UNCLOS, could potentially be protested by China as trespassing into the territory within this map. That is the case Vietnam has run into many times when its deals with oil and gas companies such as Exxon Mobile, BP, and the recent exploration deal signed with India’s State-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), have been pressured by China. This is a headache not only for Vietnam, but also for other states such as the Philippines whose oil and gas exploration vessels operating in the EEZs claimed by the Philippines have been interfered by Chinese vessels.
Earlier this month, the situation became even more complicated when India and Vietnam signed an accord to promote oil exploration in Vietnamese waters, provokingChina’s ire even more.
As said by the author, that is a deal in Vietnamese waters. Vietnam president Truong Tan Sang said in a Hanoi interview that ‘All cooperation projects between Vietnam and other partners, including ONGC, in the field of oil and gas are located on the continental shelf within the exclusive economic zone and under the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of Vietnam, entirely in conformity with international laws, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.’
Why should Vietnam wait for other states’ opinions when it directly concerns the issues in its waters? Some other states may be not content with that action butVietnam as a sovereign state has all legitimate rights to sign with other parties any deals in its territory and waters which conform to international laws.
Vietnam is a signatory to the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) which was adopted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in 2002. According to DOC all these states pledged to resolve differences peacefully without resorting to the use or threat of force. Recently, Nguyen Phu Trong, the Secretary General of Vietnam’s Communist Party, has signed an agreement in Beijing outlining basic guidelines on how future negotiations should be conducted and how conflicts in the area should be settled. One of the crucial issues to maintain the peace and stability in the region is to distinguish the truly conflicted areas with truly non-conflicted ones. The negotiations should be conducted between parties to discuss issues only in the conflicted areas. If certain area is non-conflicted, then the state which is given the right to conduct economic activities in that region by UNCLOS should feel free to proceed with its projects within the frame of international law.