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Friday, 22 January 2016 09:00
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Promoting international cooperation for the protection of national sovereignty and security on seas and islands

(LLCT) - Sovereignty and security on seas and islands are integral to national security and territorial integrity. Peaceful and friendly sea or sky is of special significance to the development of the country.

Since the East Sea is at the junction of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and is rich in natural resources, it has a specially important geo-strategic position to regional countries and superpowers alike. Vietnam has 28 provinces and cities on the 3,260 kilometers of coast. Apart from the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes, Vietnamese waters are home to more than 3,000 islands of various sizes near the shore, with many inhabited by people. Its continental shelf is varied. Its exclusive economic zone is three times as large as its land area. Therefore, Vietnamese waters are of strategic importance in terms of defense and security. Historically, enemies would mainly attack Vietnam from the ocean. This is why the development of a marine economy must take into account of national interests, sovereignty and security.

Being fully aware of the importance of political, economic, defense and security of the waters and islands for national construction and safeguard, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and the State of Vietnam have paid attention to their management, protection of territorial sovereignty, resolution of marine conflicts, and development of the marine economy. As soon as peace was restored in the North in 1954, the State focused every resource on protecting the waters and exploiting marine resources. President Ho Chi Minh said, “Previously, we only had nights and forests. Nowadays, we have days, skies and seas. Our sea is very rich and beautiful, so we have to preserve it”. Before concluding the Ho Chi Minh Campaign in 1975, the Party and State made a historic decision by liberating the Truong Sa archipelago in order to ensure Vietnam’s safety in the East Sea. After the country was reunified, on 12 May 1977, the government released the Announcement on Vietnamese Waters, which is one of the earliest announcements of its type in the Southeast Asian region. On 12 December 1982, the government issued the Announcement on the Baseline, which was to be used to measure the width of Vietnamese waters. The document marked a new stage in the country’s advancement towards the ocean and its jurisdiction rights. A resolution reached by the 9th National Assembly at its 5th Conference on approving the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) pointed out “the government’s consistent stand on Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes and its policy of solving territorial disputes and others related to the East Sea through peaceful negotiations on the basis of equality, mutual understanding and respect, observance of international laws, especially the 1982 UNCLOS”.

Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf border those of most countries on the East Sea, especially China and Cambodia. At present, there are four major territorial sovereignty-related issues that need to be solved, protection of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago; protection of Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Truong Sa archipelago and peaceful settlement of sovereignty disputes on the archipelago between four countries and one territory, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan; delimitation of the waters according to the 1982 UNCLOS; and determination of the outer borderline of Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf border.

Sovereignty disputes have exerted their influence on Vietnam’s development of a marine economy to some extent. Most importantly, it must solve such disputes through peaceful measures and in accordance with international laws. It also needs to promote its relations with the countries concerned in order to ensure a peaceful atmosphere favorable for development. However, given the current situation, in order to ensure Vietnam’s marine sovereignty and interests, on the one hand, it is necessary for the country to constantly improve its State management capacity, accelerate its socio-economic development, increase its defense and security capabilities simultaneously, conduct marine research, exploration, exploitation and farming, and preserve marine resources. On the other hand, it needs to carry out dialogues with the parties concerned and strengthen cooperative and friendly relations with them and promote international cooperation in order to find radical and long-term solutions acceptable to all parties.

Bases for settlement of disputes, maintenance of peace and stability and development of the marine economy on the East Sea include the 1982 UNCLOS and Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC). The countries concerned need to respect each other’s legitimate rights and interests stipulated in the 1982 UNCLOS. They need to solve disputes in accordance with international laws and by peaceful means. They must not use force or threaten to use force. They need to promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation in order to build trust, strengthen friendly ties and use marine resources and preserve them in an effective manner. The biggest worries for Vietnam lie in factors that cause instability or infringe on its marine sovereignty and security. The danger of an armed conflict on its waters, islands and continental shelf has not been excluded yet.

On 2 May 2014, disregarding international laws, China planted the HD 981 oil rig on Vietnam’s waters. For many days after that, Chinese ships rammed Vietnamese marine police ships in action and sunk Vietnamese fishing boats. These were illegal and immoral acts.

The East Sea became one of the hot spots in the world. Governments, military scientists, politicians, scholars and the press in the many countries criticized China’s invasive acts on Vietnamese waters and continental shelf. This had been the largest storm of protest against China since the country began its policy of “peaceful rise”, causing tension in the region and providing one of the main reasons for instability and insecurity, even armed conflicts on the waters and islands in the East Sea.

Under the circumstances, the Party and State of Vietnam took positive measures to increase dialogue aimed at solving the disputes, preventing conflicts and creating a peaceful, cooperative and friendly atmosphere for development.

Vietnam will promote international cooperation in order to solve sovereignty issues. In doing so, Vietnam, in my opinion, should:

First and foremost, have a thorough understanding of international laws and the CPV’s guidelines and points of views, and the State’s laws concerning border or territorial issues.

A resolution by the Party’s 11th Congress confirmed the need to “solve outstanding issues related to land border, territory, sea border and continental shelves with countries concerned on the basis of the international law and regional code of conduct; perform effective management of the country’s seas, islands and border and build the border into one of peace, friendship and cooperation for common development”.(1) At the 25th ASEAN Summit in Myanmar on 22 May 2014, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said, “Vietnam attaches special importance to its friendly relationship with China and does its best to strengthen it. Vietnam sincerely hopes to work with China to solve the disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the international law and on the basis of equality and mutual respect and for the sake of the two people’s interests, as well as peace and stability in the region and the world”. These are the guidelines for relevant authorities and industries when solving border, sea or island issues with neighboring and regional countries.

In order to find radical, satisfactory and workable solutions to border issues with regional countries, Vietnam needs to adhere to the common principles of the international law and foreign policy by the CPV and State. The country also needs to take advantage of the 1982 UNCLOS and DOC to promote international cooperation and establish a long-term stable legal border through negotiation.

International cooperation aimed at solving border or territorial disputes is a major issue relating to a range of other issues, and the country’s sovereignty and security. Therefore, during international negotiations on such disputes, Vietnam needs to stick to its primary principle and must not compromise randomly. It must have a solid understanding of written records including the history of its territory, knowledge of de facto management, and be good at negotiating. Negotiations on border and territorial issues with China and other countries must be closely coordinated by the Party Central Committee and Government with the negotiators held accountable. Democracy must be promoted by listening to experts in border, sea and island issues, and relevant authorities, learning from international experience and avoiding subjectivism or imposition of views. Any propaganda by hostile forces aimed at damaging Vietnam’s traditional relations with its neighboring countries, undermining people’s trust in the CPV and State or exerting negative influences on such negotiations must be prevented.

Secondly, Vietnam should have a full grasp of its objectives, principles and guidelines as to the resolution of border or sea issues with relevant countries.                            

Independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests are sacred to any country. Nowadays, national sovereignty covers a greater range of issues including territory, waters, islands, the border, economics, politics, and internal and external affairs. The settlement of issues related to territories, sovereignty and jurisdiction on the sea is interwoven with political, economic, defense, security and foreign relations. It is an intertwining process of fierce struggle, negotiation, agreement and compromise yet in accordance with the international law. During such process, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests must be maintained, which has to be considered to be the consistent guidelines.

In order to create a favorable atmosphere for its national construction and development, Vietnam needs to continue to build its border, waters and sky into those of peace, friendship and long-term stability. At the same time, it needs to get rid of its weakness including border and territorial issues, and marine sovereignty, which hostile forces could take advantage of to cause instability in the country. In their international relations, especially with neighboring and regional countries, authorities, industries and every citizen must be deeply aware of this requirement and avoid conflict or standoff which could be detrimental to such relations.

Thirdly, Vietnam needs to identify relevant scopes of international cooperation with specific countries in specific periods of time in order to solve issues related to its sovereignty over waters and islands.

Vietnam and China are neighboring countries with friendly and traditional relationship due to sharing both land and sea borders with each other. They signed an agreement on delimitation of the marine border in the Tonkin Gulf in accordance with the 1982 UNCLOS. However, with its ambition to dominate the East Sea, China is behaving aggressively in the region, so Vietnam must resolutely oppose this.

Still, Vietnam needs to cooperate with its neighboring country in conducting joint management and patrol in the shared waters. Vietnam needs to make use of the agreed cooperation mechanism and diplomatic channels to solve emerging issues and prevent disputes or conflicts in the sea that could further complicate the situation and cause tension in its continental shelf waters and exclusive economic zone. Vietnamese authorities working in the sea need to have a good relation with China’s authorities and promote cooperation in areas of which they are in charge. They need to coordinate their action with those of other neighboring and regional countries. Countries need to take into account similarities in their needs for stability and development so they can negotiate or compromise with each other. Accordingly, in its relation with China, Vietnam needs to take the good traditional bilateral relationship between the two countries and communist parties into consideration. At the same time, it must make use of the common principles of the international law and ask China to implement articles in the 1982 UNCLOS. While enforcing their laws on territories and the sea, the two countries must neither conduct acts that may further complicate the situation nor use force or threat to do so. They must give priority to negotiations based on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea and work together to design a Code of Conduct.

The armed forces must provide consultation for local party cells and authorities as well as work closely with relevant agencies and sectors in carrying out foreign activities. They must increase communication and cooperation with neighboring countries’ marine sovereignty and security forces in accordance with signed bilateral agreements to promote friendly ties. They need to meet with each other and solve issues when it has just emerged, and avoid tension or conflict. People-based diplomacy should be encouraged so that a stable atmosphere can be created. Marine forces must be equipped with knowledge of the Party’s foreign guidelines and policies, the State’s laws and international practice and law. People and relevant sectors should be made aware of the need to protect the country’s independence, sovereignty and national interests.

International cooperation in solving issues related to seas and islands is an important part of Vietnam’s foreign policy. This is to create a stable atmosphere, build its waters and islands into those of peace and friendship with neighboring and regional countries to help increase the efficiency of its management and protection of national sovereignty and jurisdiction on the sea in the new situation.

 

DR., ACAD. NGUYEN HUY HIEU

 

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