On May 1st 2014, Vietnamese authorities discovered China National Offshore Oil Corp.’s drilling rig namely Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HD981) and 03 oil vessels of China moving from the Northwest to the South of Tri Ton Island (Paracel islands of Vietnam). By 16:00 on May 2nd 2014, HD981 rig anchored in the South of Tri Ton Island along with 27 guard ships. China continued to deploy more guard ships to this area in the following days. On May 3rd 2014, Chinese Maritime Safety Administration issued a shipping notice No.14033 on its website, saying that: From May 2nd to August 15th 2014, HD981 rig will conduct exploratory drilling within one-nautical-mile-radius waters of 15029’58” North latitude – 111012’06” East longitude and all vessels are banned from entering this area. Afterwards, on May 5th 2014, Chinese Maritime Safety Administration replaced shipping notice No.14033 with notice No.14034 regarding the expansion of exploratory drilling scope up to 03 nautical miles, from 15029’58” North latitude to 111012’06” East longitude, and again, it banned all vessels from entering this area. The location of HD981 rig mentioned in the notice of Chinese Maritime Safety Administration is totally within the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf of Vietnam, about 120 nautical miles from Ly Son island of Vietnam.
This action is part of China’s recent escalations in the South China Sea, such as: official claims of the “nine-dash line” (May 2009); cuttting of “Binh Minh II” and “Viking II” ships’ cables (May and June 2011); establishment of “Sansha City” (June 2012); unilateral ban on annual fishing in the South China Sea; implementation of “measures to enforce“Fishery Law of the People’s Republic of China” (entering into force since January 1st 2014); launch of patrols and military exercises in the South China Sea to show off its power and deter other claimants; enhancement of oil exploration, archeology, development of tourism and consolidation of facilities in disputed areas; attacks on Vietnamese fishing vessels, etc., in an increasingly overt manner, regardless of international criticism and laws. In addition, China also claims that it has “absolute right” to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone in the South China Sea.
Thus, China’s recent activities in the South China Sea, especially the deployment of HD981 rig in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf, is deliberate and carefully calculated to “monopolize the South China Sea” and to realize its “nine-dash line” claims; willing to use every available means, regardless of international criticism and laws, in order to claim its sovereignty in the South China Sea, which intensifies tension and risk of uncontrolled conflicts, and severely threatens security, safety, peace and cooperation in the South China Sea.
II. Historical evidence proving Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and Spartly islands:
Vietnam has sufficient historical evidence and legal grounds to prove its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands. Vietnam’s territorial acquisition in the Paracel and the Spratly Islands was based on “principle of effectiveness”: Vietnam is the first country ever to occupy and exercise sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands when they were unclaimed (res nullius) at least since the 17th century. The occupancy and exercise of sovereignty is real, continuous, peaceful and obvious. Vietnam has full legal grounds and historical evidence to prove and defend its legitimate sovereignty, which meets all requirements of “principle of effectiveness”.
In more detail:
1. Vietnamese feudal dynasties within three centuries (from 17th to 19th) had occupied and exercised sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands:
a. Dai Viet State under the Nguyen Dynasty: Established the Paracel unit to govern, defend and exploit the Paracel and Spratly Islands. The Paracel unit and the North Sea unit established afterwards under the control of the Paracel unit had operated under the command of the seven lords, from Lord Nguyen Phuc Lan or Nguyen Phuc Tan until the Tay Son rebellion.
b. Dai Viet State in the Tay Son period: Despite constant wars on the ground and in the South China Sea, from 1771 to 1801, the forces of Lord Nguyen, Lord Trinh and Tay Son still exercised sovereignty over the territories under their governance, including the Paracels and Spratlys.
c. Vietnam State under Nguyen Dynasty continued to demand the Paracel and the North Sea units to exploit and defend the Paracel and Spratly islands. After defeating Tay Son Dynasty and unifying the country, Nguyen Anh continued to pay attention to protection, governance and exploitation of Paracel and Spratly islands despite various domestic affairs.
2. As Vietnam’s diplomatic representative, France continued to exercise Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands:
Under the 1884 Patenotre Treaty, French colonial Administration represented Vietnam to defend, govern and claim Vietnam’s sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands.
3. Vietnam’s sovereignty exercise from 1945 to 1975:
In late 1946, early 1947, in spite of Vietnam’s independence declaration on September 2nd 1945 and freedom from the 1884 Patenotre Treaty, France asserted that under the Preliminary Treaty on March 6th 1946, The Democratic Republic of Vietnam remained under controll of the French Union. Thus, Vietnam remained dependent on France diplomatically and France continued to exercise its right in representing Vietnam to counter every violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands.
Under the Treaty on March 8th 1949, France established pro-French government, which was called The State of Vietnam and was headed by former Emperor Bao Dai. However, it was the French army who really ruled the South China Sea, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands.
Geneva Agreement signed on July 20th 1954 recognized Vietnam’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity. Aticle 1 of Geneva Agreement stipulated that Ben Hai river was chosen as a temporary demarcation line (known as Parallel 17th) in order to divide the territorial jurisdiction between the North and the South of Vietnam. This temporary demarcation line was also extended offshore from the coast (Article 4). Paracels and Spratlys located below Parallel 17th therefore they were under the governance of the Government of South Vietnam.
4. Vietnam’s sovereignty exercise over Paracels and Spratlys from 1975 till now:
Under the guideline of the Politburo and directive of the Commander in chief of Vietnam’s People’s Army, Vietnam’s People’s Navy Commander tookover the Paracels.
From April 13th – 28th 1975, Vietnam’s People’s Forces tookover islands occupied by the forces of Democratic Republic of Vietnam and deployed soldiers to defend some other islands of the Paracels.
On December 9th 1982, the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam signed the Decision No.193-HĐBT on the establishment of Truong Sa (Paracels) District of Dong Nai Province. On December 11th 1982, Vietnam Government signed the Decision No.194-HĐBT on the establishment of Hoang Sa (Spratlys) District of Quang Nam-Da Nang Province.
On December 28th 1982, under a Resolution of the 7th National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Truong Sa District was integrated into Phu Khanh Province.
April 11th 2007, the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam signed the Degree No.65 on the establishment of three administrative units of Truong Sa District:
– Truong Sa Town: includes the large Spartlys Island and its vicinity.
– Song Tu Tay Commune: includes Song Tu Tay Island and its vicinity.
– Sinh Ton Commune: includes Sinh Ton Island and its vicinity.
On July 1st 1989, Phu Khanh Province was seperated into two smaller provinces: Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa. Truong Sa District belongs to Khanh Hoa Province.
On June 23rd 1994, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was approved by the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
On January 1st 1997, Quang Nam-Da Nang Province was seperated into Quang Nam Province and Da Nang city, a Central city. Hoang Sa District belongs to Da Nang city.
On April 25th 2009, Da Nang Administration appointed Mr. Dang Cong Ngu as Chairman of the People’s Committee of Hoang Sa District.
So far, in addition to the above activities, Vietnam has been occupying and governing 21 islands of the Spratlys; constantly consolidated and developed socio-economic, security and defense facilities in Truong Sa District.
III. International criticism of China’s recent actions:
In response to China’s recent escalations in the South China Sea, many countries have severely criticized and objected to China’s actions:
- The United States: U.S. Politicians (State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki; U.S Ambassador to the Philippines Goldberg; Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel, etc.) have reiterated U.S stance and perspective on the issue: (i) U.S has, for the first time, shifted from insinuating to publicly criticizing China for its “nine-dash line” claims in the South China Sea which are inconsistent with international laws; saying lack of transparency in China’s claims may result in regional instability and insecurity; (ii) U.S has responded quickly and bluntly to China’s actions, regarded such actions as “provocative and risky”, saying China’s assertive and provocative moves in order to pursue its claims are unacceptable”.
– The Philippines (PLP): has been reiterating its increasingly tough stance against China’s escalations in the South China Sea: (i) In response to Hainan’s new fishing regulations, the Philippines has kept protesting through different channels and asking China to clarify these regulations; saying that it violates International laws and escalates tensions in the South China Sea; affirming that the Philippines will not approve these regulations; (ii) The Foreign Ministry of the Phillipines also defined that the China’s “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea completely vilolates international laws and threatens regional peace and stability; stating that the “China’s Exclusive Economic Zone is not allowed to exceed 200 nautical miles from its mainland and Hainan Island”; (iii) The Philippines determinedly pursues its lawsuit against China at the international arbitration court of the law of the sea.
– Malaysia: Among the claimants in the South China Sea, Malaysia usually tends to avoid publicly criticizing China, even though China has 3-times sent its vessels to James reefs, 80km off Malaysia’s coast. Nevertheless, in response to China’s recent escalations in the South Sea, Malaysia has expressed tougher stance such as: (i) For the first time, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (September 2013) stated that China “had sent a mixed message” which gave Asian neibouring countries a negative view of China; China should solve maritime disputes with other ASEAN countries in “a more friendly way”; (ii) Malaysia refused China’s proposal of bilateral negotiations, “collaboration to exploit together” during the visit to Malaysia by the President Xi Jinping (Oct 2013); (iii) Malaysia declaired to build a new naval base in Bintulu, Sarwak (the largest town, 96 km off James reefs)… Notably, in the closed Conference of Foreign Ministers of ASEAN countries (on Jan 16th – 17th 2014) in Myanma, Malaysia stance over the South China Sea had changed dramatically in comparision with those in the past, in which Malaysia had strongly protested to the enforcement measures of Fishery Law of Hainan; suggesting ASEAN countries to have appropriate responses to China’s activities; did not accept the “setting aside dispute and exploiting jointly” guidelines of China; suggesting ASEAN and China to conclude COC.
– Indonesia: Indonesian Foreign Minister has protested China ADIZ on the South China Sea; expressed its concerns that the “Nine-dash line” is overlapping Natuna Islands’ Exclusive Economic Zone; actively raised issues related to the disputes in the South China Sea at the closed Conference of Foreign Ministers of ASEAN countries in Myanmar (Jan 16th-17th 2014), urged the conclusion of COC.
– Japan: Japan’s Defense Minister (Jan 12th) objected to “enforcement measures of Fishery Law of Hainan”, saying that the unilateral imposition of such fishing restriction in waters as if this warters belongs only to China is unacceptable internationally; and that China is a threat to the current international order.”
IV. Vietnam’s stance, perspective and goodwill:
1. Over China’s drilling rig operation in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf: Since revealation of the rig, Vietnam has restrained and clearly underlined its stance and perspective in a statement by Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokesman and a protesting letter by Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (May 4th) as follows:
– HD981 rig’s location disclosed by China’s Maritime Safety Administration is totally within the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam, about 120 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam;
– Vietnam has full historical evidence and legal grounds to prove its sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratlys as well as sovereign and jurisdical rights over its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
– All activities by a foreign entity in Vietnamese waters without Vietnam’s consent are illegal and invalid. Vietnam strongly objects to such activities;
– Vietnam strongly opposes China’s above action and firmly requests CNOOC to stop its illegal operations and remove HD981 rig out of Vietnamese waters.
– China’s above action goes against the cooperative spirit between the national oil and gas groups of both countries, the practice of international oil and gas activities as well as friendly and cooperative principles between Vietnam and China.
2. Vietnam’s general stance on the South China Sea: Vietnam’s consistent stance is that in pursuit of a fundamental and long-term solution to the disputes in the South China Sea, it’s imperative for the stakeholders to:
– Restrain, go to great length to maintain peace and stability, refuse to use force or coercion, strictly obbey UN Charter and international legal standards including 05 principles on peaceful coexistence, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; fully implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and ASEAN Six-point principle on the South China Sea (2010), conclude a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) in a timely manner.
– Persistantly pursue peaceful solutions to sovle the disputes, in accordance with international law; respect freedom of navigation and put concerted effort to securing safety for ships through the South China Sea in keeping with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; enhance cooperation on sea safety and research, environment protection, disaster relief at sea, maritime crime prevention which contributes to trust building.