According to the Vietnamese press and the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, from July 3, 2019 to August 7, 2019, China sent a survey ship, Haiyang Dizhi 8, to conduct a seismic survey in the Vanguard Bank area with the escort of Coast Guard ships, the Haijing 3901 and Haijing 37111, as well as one helicopter.
The dispatchment of the survey ship to conduct a long-term survey of the area deep inside the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of Vietnam, far from the Chinese coast, has seriously infringed upon the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf of Vietnam, blatantly violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and at the same time tarnishing the image of China as a "responsible big country".
The act of sending the Haiyang Dizhi 8 to carry out surveys at the Vanguard Bank clearly infringed upon Vietnam's sovereignty and violated international law because the Vanguard Bank area is located more than 600 nautical miles away from the Chinese mainland, but only about 200 nautical miles from Vietnam’s Phu Quy and Con Dao island groups and about 220 nautical miles from the coast of Vietnam, and belongs to the extension of the continental shelf of Vietnam to the southeast.
According to the 1982 UNCLOS, this area is completely located in the EEZ and the southern continental shelf of Vietnam. This is the reason why Vietnam has strongly opposed China's actions. In press releases on July 16, 2019 and July 19, 2019, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman affirmed that "The Vanguard Bank area lies entirely within Vietnamese waters, determined in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that Vietnam and China are both members of."
At the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the ASEAN Conference with member countries held in Bangkok – Thailand in late July and early August, and in bilateral meetings with his counterpart in Russia, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand, Norway, Laos, etc. on the sidelines of this conference, Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh stressed that China is seriously violating the EEZ and continental shelf of Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang also said that "Vietnamese authorities are continuing to monitor," and added, "Ever since China's Haiyang Dizhi 8 geological survey ship and its escort vessels were operating in the EEZ and continental shelf of Vietnam, Vietnam has repeatedly contacted China through different channels, presented diplomatic protests, resolutely demanded the country to immediately terminate the violations and withdraw all ships from Vietnam waters; respect Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction for the sake of the relations between two countries as well as stability and peace in the region”. Vietnamese maritime authorities continue to implement many appropriate measures to enforce sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in a peaceful and lawful manner to protect Vietnam's waters.
China's dispatchment of the Haiyang Dizhi 8 to conduct a survey in the Vanguard Bank area belonging to the EEZ and the continental shelf of Vietnam violated international laws, went against the agreement between Vietnam and China, and is condemned by the international community, thereby negatively affecting the image of a "responsible big country" that China is propagating, as demonstrated in the following points:
Firstly, although China has always asserted its commitment to international law and has also joined the 1982 UNCLOS, China has also unilaterally declared its "nine-dash line" claim, which is not based on any international law. The fact that China has carried out an extended geological survey at Vanguard Bank with the argument that this activity takes place within China's waters is unfounded because the ruling of the International Arbitration Tribunal, established in accordance with Annex VII of the 1982 UNCLOS in La Hague in 2016 affirmed that "China's nine-dash line is without a legal basis", "China has no legal basis to claim historical sovereignty over the resources in the waters within the boundary of the "nine-dash line"; " no feature in the Spratly Islands is recognized as an island, and thus cannot create an exclusive economic zone."
Secondly, China's actions in the Haiyang Dizhi 8 incident are also contrary to the 2011 agreement between Chinese and Vietnamese leaders on "Basic Principles for the Settlement of Maritime Dispute" and commitment to turn the South China Sea into a "peaceful sea" with the two countries agreeing to make an effort to find basic and long-term solutions acceptable to both sides to resolve maritime disputes on the basis of respect for international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS. The settlement of maritime disputes that this agreement refers to is the settlement of disputes in overlapping maritime areas in accordance with International law, which does not include the Vanguard Bank area as this area is entirely under Vietnamese sovereignty according to international law.
Thirdly, along with the construction of artificial islands and the militarization of these artificial islands, which have been carried out since 2015, China's recent actions in the South China Sea continue to face strong opposition from the international community. Following the US State Department's July 20, 2019 statement entitled "Chinese Coercion on Oil and Gas Activity in the South China Sea" in which the US is said to be "concerned by reports of China’s interference with oil and gas activities in the South China Sea, including Vietnam’s long-standing exploration and production activities”, Jim Risch, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his concern about the survey activity by the Chinese ship in the EEZ of Vietnam.
The recent US-Japan-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue Joint Ministerial Statement in Bangkok also condemned China's increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea despite not directly mentioning China. Particularly, the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue Joint Ministerial Statement has a paragraph in which the 3 countries “expressed serious concerns about negative developments in the South China Sea (SCS), including the deployment of advanced weapons systems on disputed features and credible reports of disruptive activities in relation to long-standing oil and gas projects in the SCS.” China's unlawful activities carried out in the South China Sea are also a main discussion topic of the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and related conferences taking place in Thailand in the recent late July and early August period.
In the Joint Communique, the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN countries noted concerns about the land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region; reaffirmed the importance of upholding international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS; called on parties to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation; and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.
Since 2017, China has proposed the "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era", which reiterates and highlights "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence" in the effort to build global relations with countries around the world, which includes the principles of: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. Therefore, China’s act of sending the Haiyang Dizhi 8 to infringe upon Vietnam's waters has been evaluated by many international scholars as not only an infringement of Vietnam's sovereignty, a violation international law but also a renouncement to the first, fourth, and fifth principle that China pledged to the international community.
Therefore, in order to contribute to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea - reinforce maritime security and safety to demonstrate the image of a "responsible big country", China needs to completely withdraw the Haiyang Dizhi 8 and the escort vessels from the waters of Vietnam, refrain from conducting similar activities in the waters of Vietnam and of other related countries. China needs to respect international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS, and take into account the opinion of the international community, as the South China Sea is an important sea area for many countries inside and outside the region./.