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Thursday, 17 August 2017 12:16
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External information and communication in protecting sovereignty over sea and islands

(LLCT) - Based on the “tripod” - communication, political and diplomatic moves, and field struggle, the Vietnamese Party and State have proposed many policies to maintain water sovereignty over the past several years. 

Pupils of Bong Van Dia secondary school, Ca Mau province participated in the contest

"I love my homeland's sea and islands", May 2017 _ Photo: canhsatbien.vn

1. General situation

Throughout the past several years, the conflict in the East Sea between China and Vietnam has accelerated, becoming more complicated and more unpredictable. The conflict originated from a series of actions that China took in 2009 - 2010 on the basis of illegal territorial claims. This was done quickly, prompting fait accompli in Vietnam and escalating tension of sovereignty over the East Sea in 2011. For example, Chinese marine surveillance and fishing ships deliberately cut the cables of Vietnamese oil exploration vessels (the cables of the Binh Minh Ship were cut twice - on May 26th, 2011 and November 30th, 2012; Viking II’s cables were cut on June 9th, 2011). On June 23rd, 2012, China also called for illegal international tender for nine oil and gas lots deep within Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelves. Most recently, in May 2014, China illegally installed the Haiyang Shiyou 981 drilling rig deep in Vietnam’s territory. Since then, China has continued to escalate its actions and consolidate its claims through sedimentation, the constructions of manmade islands, and the destruction of state and militarization in the East Sea.

Regarding foreign affairs, China has implemented the “big country” policy. China is now taking part in bilateral conversations and conversations with ASEAN related to the East Sea. It has held a firm attitude throughout these discussions, although they have not expanded on the territory issues. It has embroiled different members of ASEAN, forced bilateral negotiations, and prevented internationalization.

Regarding propaganda, China has made several speeches at even the highest levels to confirm its sovereignty over the East Sea and has carried out large-scale, flexible and well-managed propaganda campaigns. China has published articles in both Chinese and foreign newspapers to influence the opinions of the international community. It has also promoted scholarly propaganda to create an ambiguous public opinion about the East Sea issue. This has sometimes involved Chinese scholars using aggressive and provoking language.

The spread of globalization has led the international community to pay greater attention to issues in the East Sea. The United States has stated that it would benefit by maintaining nautical and aeronautical freedom in the East Sea. This is reflected by its frequent presence in the area as a part of the Freedom of Navigation operations (FONOPs), its security and national defence cooperation with ASEAN member countries, and its direct, different-level speeches criticizing China about provoking violence in the East Sea. Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand also clearly and strongly express their criticism of China and support the using of international jurisdictions in settling the disputes. European countries and the European Union are actively specifying their positions. ASEAN countries express their concern about the East Sea issues more seriously but they generally maintain their positions and a common voice in the East Sea issues despite some difficulties. ASEAN also speeds up the code of conduct in the East Sea and respects legal process, diplomatic activities, and non-militarization. Notably, the 2016 verdict between the Philippines and China changed the state of the dispute in the East Sea and affected the policies of related countries.

The situation in the East Sea has affected Vietnamese water sovereignty in many aspects and threatened the national security. Every event in the East Sea has affected domestic security, politics, economy and social safety. China’s act of cutting the cables of Vietnamese ships Binh Minh 02 and Viking II in 2011 resulted in 11 consecutive weeks that protest occurred in Hanoi. The Haiyang 981 drilling rig was taken advantage of, which seriously affected the social security, order and investment. Vietnam’s foreign affairs have come up against many difficulties handling different relationships to protect sovereignty and maintain relationships with China and other countries invested in the East Sea.

2. The reality of diplomatic communications in protecting Vietnamese sovereignty over sea and islands

Based on the “tripod” - communication, political and diplomatic moves, and field struggle, the Vietnamese Party and State have proposed many policies to maintain water sovereignty over the past several years. Vietnam has gradually put forth its communication front, facilitating Vietnamese information to foreign reporters and foreign representatives in Vietnam, as well as Vietnamese representatives in foreign countries in order to encourage support for Vietnam in maintaining peace and stability in the region and settling disputes peacefully. Vietnamese people both inside and outside Vietnam have expressed their support for the protection of the national water sovereignty. Communication affairs are prioritized and strictly supervised; information and policies concerning the settling of disputes over the East Sea have been publicized and popularized, contributing to consensus and support from the international communities.

However, there are many challenges. The issues concerning the East Sea had been corrupted by enemies and used to sabotage and divide, and prevent Vietnam from settling issues and maintaining the cooperation with China. Therefore, some people manipulate information and distrust the Party and the State. Vietnam must promote communication that confirms their sovereignty, expose illegal Chinese actions, and maintain a stable, peaceful environment for the country to develop. Internationally, ASEAN countries and partners from Russia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East take different views on the East Sea dispute, as each is ruled by its own national concerns.

Under the circumstances, it is very important to help the international community fully understand Vietnam’s position in the dispute over the sea territory.

Therefore, all related ministries, organizations, localities and press agencies should carry out synchronized communication. There should be initial sharing and cooperation providing information to the press and orienting public opinion concerning the East Sea issues. Diverse communication should be promoted, as this will contribute to improving the awareness across social classes. Communications can spread historical and legal evidence of Vietnam’s sovereignty, nautical security, safety, freedom, and desire to settle issues peacefully.

Several specific solutions:

Communication should promote the use of “senior leaders” to orient public opinion about protecting water sovereignty, especially through official visits to other countries, participation in international and regional multilateral forums such as those of ASEAN, APEC, United Nations or other great events of the country, through which the Vietnamese standpoint can be promoted.

Vietnam is trying to accelerate the distribution of information about the East Sea across forums, bringing about positive change in public opinion. Documents from summit conferences such as ASEAN, ASEM and Francophone Summit show that these efforts have been successful. The request to “settle the East Sea issues via peaceful measures based on international law”, “maintaining peace and stability”, and “ensuring nautical and aeronautical security, safety, and freedom” are included in the common declarations of the official summit visits.

Vietnamese overseas representatives also play an active role in forming a communication front and orienting public opinion abroad. This involves contacting political circles, sending diplomatic notes, taking part in interviews, writing articles, holding seminars, and circulating documents sharing Vietnam’s viewpoint. All these actions are Vietnam’s efforts to gain support from multiple political circles, the international and overseas Vietnamese communities.

Regarding foreign affairs track 2 and 3, Vietnam should facilitate seminars, talks and international forums addressing the East Sea issues in foreign countries, focusing on the historical implications of solving disputes peacefully. Vietnam has successfully recruited several prestigious scholars and researchers to write articles about the East Sea issues.

For the overseas Vietnamese community, communication raises awareness and contributes to creating unity with the Party’s and State’s policies. Vietnam has arranged for many groups of overseas Vietnamese to visit Spratly archipelago to affirm Vietnamese management in the area. Overseas Vietnamese have coordinated activities such as Vietnam Summer Camp, fund-raisers for fishermen, television programmes, and art exchanges spreading information about Vietnam’s seas and islands.

Domestic authorities can create favourable conditions for foreign reporters to enter Vietnam and make reports advertising Vietnamese sea and island tourism. In the case of Haiyang 981 drilling rig, Vietnam arranged field trips taking reporters and foreign press assistants to the area where China illegally installed the rig. These reporters published thousands of news items and articles in the foreign media, which told of China’s dangerous deeds and Vietnam’s desire to settle the dispute peacefully. The international community highly appreciated Vietnam’s goodwill, restrained reactions, and pursuit of peace.

Additionally, some websites concerning the East Sea dispute are currently operating effectively and attract numerous readers, especially foreigners. These websites publish news articles, research results and basic information about the East Sea issue. There is more information in foreign languages such as English, Chinese as well. Some ministries are using social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.) to provide information and orient public opinion.

Despite some positive results, there exist several drawbacks in the communication in foreign countries as stated below.

Complications in the East Sea deeply affect the thoughts and emotions of the overseas Vietnamese community, who can then be manipulated to oppose Party and State policies. During the time when China was promoting militarization and construction of the islands in the East Sea, there were some suspicions about the effectiveness of Vietnam’s diplomatic and political struggles. Overseas Vietnamese are not fully aware of the situation in the East Sea or the Party’s and State’s efforts and achievements in protecting the water territory, but have been negatively affected by the distorted arguments of the enemies and political opportunists.

With the rapid development of e-media and social networking sites, keeping track of the wrong information concerning the East Sea issues is becoming more and more complicated. For the time being, people have witnessed the “blooming” of incorrect information, fake images, and comments distorting the policies of the Party and the State, which has caused difficulties for internal and foreign affairs. Most of this information and these images come from foreign websites.

The court for the consensus and support of foreign reporters is limited and irregular. Canvassing the domestic and foreign scholars to write articles about Vietnamese sovereignty in the East Sea is changing but these articles are not published in international prestigious magazines. Additionally, communication about Vietnam’s water sovereignty faces obstacles when foreign partners show their hesitation because of a fear that they will damage their relationship with China.

3. Direction and solutions

The Party’s 12th Congress Resolution states: “determine and insist on protecting independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity”. Hereby, the communication and mobilization of public opinion about the protection of Vietnamese sovereignty in the East Sea continue to be an important political mission in which the strength of the whole political force is needed to carry out the following important tasks:

In terms of content, the ministries and branches must cooperate to research and enrich the content of the communication, and clarify their concentration as well as the problems needed to provide careful consideration or avoidance. Research and propose content related to the impact of the verdict in the lawsuit between China and the Philippines and the new proposals about the cooperation of involved parties’ in the East Sea fishing industry and sea environment protection.

In terms of target subjects, they must be classified (important partners, neutral countries, and the international community) so that levels, content, and methods of communication can be suitably designed.

In terms of method, research various communication methods suitable for different subjects; take full advantage of e-media, social networking sites and smart phones. Create application software to popularize the basic and practical knowledge about the water territory for people and international community.

In terms of prediction and improving activities of prediction, clarify the focus of communication, limit passiveness or unpredicted factors to avoid losing communication front or information crisis. Build multiple communication scenarios to deal with likely situations and carry out these scenarios unanimously at different levels and synchronize them with political, diplomatic and field struggles.

The specific situation requires concentrating on some specific groups of methods to effectively solve existing problems and promote communication about Vietnamese water sovereignty in other countries such as:

Raise the awareness among overseas Vietnamese people by building a long-term plan to introduce the content related to the water sovereignty and Vietnamese intention to settle the disputes to the diplomatic activities of the leaders in foreign countries and the activities of the representatives in these countries.

In mobilizing international support, mobilize the contribution of overseas Vietnamese people and court for the support of foreign reporters. It is also important to continue to promote the role of Vietnamese representatives in foreign countries in the mobilization and communication about Vietnam’s image as a country that respects international laws, love peace, and intends to use peaceful measures to settle the disputes in the East Sea. Vietnam also needs to analyze the wrong deeds which go against the common hope of all countries to maintain peace and stability in the region. The plan needs to be quantified and specified each year and carried out in closely supervised methods and suitable for each area.

In communication, it is essential to share information tracking of the situation, and collecting information and images about the illegal activities of different parties in the East Sea to direct and orient public opinion. Grasp public opinion in foreign countries and the information on the internet to stop the corrupt use of the East Sea issues to oppose the Party and the State. It is also necessary to pay attention to building communication staff who is expert in digital media, skilful in processing information, and competent in foreign languages to interact with international readers.


(1) Four field trips for 35 reporters, assistants of 29 news agencies in foreign countries among whom there were two reporters from the overseas Vietnamese community: AP, New York Times, WSJ, Bloomberg, CNBC, VOA (the USA), Viet Weekly (Vietnamese newspaper in the USA), Reuters, BBC, The Guardian (the UK), AFP, Le Monde, Radio France, Yomiuri Shimbun, Jiji Press, Fuji TV, NDN, TBS (Japan); Channel News Asia (Singapore); Aljazeera (Qatar)...

Dr. Le Hai Binh

Press and Information Department

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson 

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