Amid yet another round of sparring between Vietnam and China in the resource-rich South China Sea, Vietnamese ambassador to India Pham Sanh Chau has said that his country has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its waters as per international law and UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea).
“Any activities in Vietnamese waters without our permission violate international laws, especially the law of the sea,” the envoy told SNI in an exclusive interview. And that “Vietnam’s position is to persistently and resolutely resist any action that infringes on our sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”
Incidents in the South China Sea involving the two Communist neighbours who are comprehensive strategic partners occur with unfailing regularity.
Chinese muscle flexing in the South China Sea has seen it involved in disputes not just with Vietnam but with the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. All these nations have territorial claims that are at times overlapping, over the South China Sea through which trillions of dollars worth of world trade transits annually.
In the ongoing standoff, Vietnam says a Chinese vessel meant to conduct geological surveys entered its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. Like Vietnam, China too claims sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the disputed waters that are said to have rich oil and gas reserves.
Ambassador Chau reiterated his country’s position: “Vietnam has full historical and legal evidence for the two archipelagos (Paracel and Spratly) and we have sovereign rights over our waters as per international laws, including UNCLOS.”
At the same time, he indicated that Hanoi is willing to settle the dispute in a peaceful manner in accordance with international law.”Regarding the territorial claims over the Spratly and Paracel islands by his country and China, the envoy said, “The two countries need to address the issue.” With particular reference to Spratly, he further said it has six claimants (among them are Vietnam, China and Taiwan) and the dispute needs to be addressed by all parties.
Without naming China, Chau emphasised that the broader issue is one of “peace, security, freedom of navigation, overflight, unimpeded trade and economic activities in this important maritime domain”.
Though Vietnam and China are at loggerheads over the South China Sea, their bilateral relations, often marked by friction and distrust, appear to be on an even keel at present. “We are comprehensive strategic partners and we have very good ties with China,” said Chau.
Vietnam, despite its differences with China over the South China Sea, has chosen to be part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has reasons for doing so. “It will contribute to the economic prosperity of the countries that are part of it,” said Chau.
Asked about the possible debt-trap countries part of the BRI may find themselves in, the envoy said: “We understand that there are a number of issues that need to be addressed. But our view is that it’s a positive and constructive initiative which cares not just for the prosperity of countries in the region but also beyond.”
As for the Indo-Pacific construct is meant as a counter to China, the envoy said: “Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is open to everybody. There is no reason for any country to fear…this is a mechanism for cooperation.”
Beijing does not need to be anxious about the growing India-Vietnam defence ties, according to the envoy. “I don’t think China needs to worry as we have defence cooperation with China too. We’re increasing our cooperation with China in various sectors,” he stated.
And would Vietnam consider joining the Quad if it was expanded in the future to include more members? Dismissing it as a premature question, the envoy added, “We welcome all initiatives that contribute to maintaining peace and security in the region. So if the Quad acts on those lines, it’s in line with our position.”