According to the international and Vietnamese media, since July 3, 2019, China has dispatched the ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 to conduct seismic survey in the Vanguard Bank area (which China refers to as Wànān tān)with the escort of 2 armed ships including the Haijing 3901 (12,000 tons), Haijing 37111 (2,200 tons) and helicopters. This act is aggravating Vietnam-China relations as China continues to maintain the operation of Haiyang Dizhi 8 despite Vietnam's opposition, and criticism from the US and the international community.
The Vanguard Bank is located more than 600 nautical miles away from the Chinese mainland. China argues that the Vanguard Bankis within the "ox’s tongue line" or part of the so-called "waters of the Nansha Islands” (which Vietnam refers to as Truong Sa). However, this argument does not have a legal basis, as the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 has clearly stated two points: first, there is no legal basis for China to claim historical rights to resources in the waterswithin the nine-dash line; secondly, no feature in the Spratly Islands has the ability to create extended maritime zones and islands in the Spratly Islands cannot collectively create extended maritime zones.
Meanwhile, Vanguard Bank, Rifleman Bank, Alexandra Bank,Grainger Bank, Prince Consort Bank, and Bombay Castle Shoal are the extension of the Vietnamese continental shelf to the southeast. These banks and shoal are separated from the Spratly Islands by a deep trench and therefore, according to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),should not belong to the Spratly Islands. Thus, China cannot use the "nine-dash line" or the "Spratly Islandsmaritime zone" to justify that the waters around Vanguard Bankare disputed.
Meanwhile, the Vanguard Bank area isapproximately 200 nautical miles from Phu Quy and Con Dao groups of islands, and approximately 220 nautical miles from the coast of Vietnam, which is the extension of the Vietnamese continental shelf to the southeast. According to the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Vanguard Bankis located in the exclusive economic zone and the southern continental shelf of Vietnam. Under the provisions of UNCLOS, this area is onlyassociated with two countries whose coastline faces Vietnam, which are Malaysia and Brunei. In reality, this area is an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam, not disputed waters. Currently, Vietnam is controlling and extracting oil and gas at this location.
Vietnam has also carried out all necessary procedures in order to enforce the rights of the coastal state under the provisions of international law, including: Statementby the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on the Territorial Sea Baseline of Vietnam in 1982; submission ofa report on the outer limits of the continental shelf to the United Nations in 2009; promulgation of the Law of the Sea of Vietnam in 2012 and the Law on Natural Resources andEnvironment of Sea and Islands in 2015. Vietnam and Malaysia also made a joint submission onthe outer limits of the continental shelf. Brunei did not object to this submission. In the above-mentioned legal documents as well as by-law documents, Vietnam has clearly defined its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, as well as regulations detailing the rights and obligations of other countries when implementing activities, especially scientific research, exploration, extraction and usage of natural resources, installation of cables and structures, in the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam.
<>The Risk in China'sdispatch of a survey vessel to an area claimed by Vietnam.
According to Vietnamese experts, China's activities in the past few days are extremely dangerous, opposing the provisions of international law, as well as the perceptions and agreements of the Senior leaders of Vietnam and China. China's actions complicated the situation, escalated conflicts and disturbed the peace and stability, as well as the assurance of maritime security and freedom in the South China Sea. This is particularly dangerous in the context of the ongoing negotiation between ASEAN countries and China to sign the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).
Although China has always declared that it wants to maintain stability in the South China Sea, but its continued support of the nine-dash line, infringement of maritime zones and threats to Vietnamese and Malaysian vessels, as well as the sinking of a Philippines’ fishing ship (June 2019) complicated the situation in the South China Sea. These actions go against what the Chinese government is committed to, as well as the documents China signed with ASEAN such as the DOC, and seriously disrupt the COC negotiation process, which desperately needs parties to refrain from such activities in order to ensure a stable condition in the South China Sea, prevent an increase in conflicts and build trust through negotiation.
<>China's actions are strongly opposed by Vietnam andcriticized by the US, while the international community expressed concern.
In addition to dispatchingits maritime police to request the Chinese survey fleet to withdraw from its exclusive economic zone, Vietnam has twice voiced its disagreement and demanded that China end its infringementupon Vietnam's sovereignty. In the statements made by the Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Mrs. Le Thi Thu Hang said, "The Vanguard Bank area lies entirely within Vietnamese waters, determined in accordance with the 1982United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that Vietnam and China are both members of."
After emphasizing the fact that China's Haiyang 8 survey fleet has violated the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of Vietnam in the South China Sea area, Mrs. Hang said, Vietnam has contacted China on multiple occasions via different channels, delivered diplomatic notes to oppose China's violations and staunchly demanded that China stopall unlawful activities, withdraw its ships from Vietnamese waters and respect Vietnam's sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its waters, which would serve the interests of bilateral relations as well as regional stability and peace; Vietnam's maritime functional forces continue to implement many appropriate measures to enforce sovereignty peacefully and lawfully.
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam also emphasized strongly that it was Vietnam's consistent position to resolutely and persistently stand against any act infringing upon Vietnam’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in Vietnamese waters established in the provisions of the 1982 UNCLOS through peaceful means in accordance with international law.
The U.S. State Department expressed concern and opposed China's actions. In the statement titled "Chinese Coercion on Oil and Gas Activity in the South China Sea" on July 20, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus emphasized China's actions in recent days as “interference with Vietnam’s long-standingoil and gas exploration and production activities".
The statement also affirmed that China’s “repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states threaten regional energy security and undermine the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market.”; argued that “China’s reclamation and militarization of disputed outposts in the SCS, along with other efforts to assert its unlawful SCS maritime claims, including the use of maritime militia to intimidate, coerce, and threaten other nations, undermine the peace and security of the region”. The US State Department emphasized thatThe United States firmly opposes coercion and intimidation by any claimant to assert its territorial or maritime claims. China should cease its bullying behavior and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilizing activity.
Many major regional and international media outlets cited observers' comments that Vietnam's public criticism of China and the detailed announcement of the ongoing tension in the South China Sea is a necessary and appropriate step. Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies(USA), said many countries in the region are observing and concerned about how China behaves in Vietnamese waters, and assessed that Beijing would not eschew from preventing any country's oil exploration efforts within the unreasonable "ox’s tongue" that they drew and would continue that action by bullying and intimidating other countries, but with limited use of force. Researcher Collin Koh (Singapore) warns that if China is determined to escalate the tension in this incident, the image of a responsible country that the country is trying to build will collapse.
Many international scholars share the same assumption: If China wants to become a superpower with appropriate influence, the country must be prepared to respect and act according to international law. China cannot stand alone against the international community. If China continues to behave as it does now, the country will suffer great losses in prestige, economic, political diplomacy and will harm themselves more than they achieve by defying international law.