Vietnam picks dangerous course in China’s waters

By Gong Yingchun Source:Global Times Published: 2014-5-15 0:58:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

In recent days, the Vietnamese authorities dispatched a large number of vessels, including some from the navy, to the waters off Zhongjian Island, forcibly disturbing the normal drilling operations of a Chinese oil rig and ramming China's escorting civilian ships.

Such provocative actions not only constitute a serious threat to the safety of the Chinese rig and those working on it, but also infringed upon the jurisdiction of China's government vessels carrying out maritime law enforcement tasks within the seas under China's jurisdiction.

It is true that there is a territorial dispute between China and Vietnam over some islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands, but there is no dispute between the two countries over the Xisha Islands in which Zhongjian Island is included.

It is also true that a demarcation line is yet to be done for the waters between China's Xisha Islands and Vietnam's coastline.

However, the recent maritime drilling by the Chinese oil rig is only 17 miles away from the Zhongjian Island, 150 miles from the Vietnamese coastline.

The location is clearly within China's offshore waters, notwithstanding the lack of an official demarcation line between China and Vietnam in this area.

There is not any possibility of overlapping territorial claims between the two countries.

According to clauses 56 and 60 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China has the exclusive right to exploration, development, maintenance and management of resources within the waters off the Xisha Islands.

It also has exclusive jurisdiction over the construction and use of all drilling equipment, including oil rigs, operating in these waters.

It is clear that by using the excuse that maritime demarcation has not been done, Hanoi has chosen to view the whole sea between China and Vietnam as a disputable area and sent a flotilla of ships to disturb the normal offshore drilling operations of the Chinese company.

Vietnam's activities, a violation of international practices, have also set a dangerous precedent for a country to brazenly interrupt another country's normal maritime operations in the sea waters under jurisdiction of the latter, which is obviously in breach of UNCLOS.

The actions by the Vietnamese authorities are a serious provocation. The harassment by Vietnamese ships of a Chinese oil rig operating normally within the waters under China's jurisdiction constitutes an infringement of China's exclusive jurisdiction over the natural resources within the sea waters under China's jurisdiction.

Vietnam should be held accountable for the consequences of its actions, which are in violation of international law, and China certainly has the right to take countermeasures in accordance with international law.

The Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, passed by the International Maritime Organization in 1988, formally became effective on March 1, 1992. China and Vietnam have both ratified and are party to these two international conventions.

As stipulated by the two documents, China has legitimate rights to exercise its jurisdiction and impose sanctions against any country whose activities endanger the safety of its maritime navigation and its fixed platforms on its continental shelf.

By mobilizing armed vessels to ram Chinese ships in the waters only 17 miles away from China's Zhongjian Island, Vietnam has made clear its intention of provoking a head-on clash with China and putting pressures on Beijing.

With such reckless and risky behavior, Vietnam has turned a blind eye to the overall picture of Sino-Vietnamese relations and ignored the ongoing efforts made by both countries to create a good atmosphere and environment for all-round cooperation, and seriously jeopardized bilateral mutual trust.

The Vietnamese attempt to force China into giving up its legitimate rights and interests by escalating regional tension is both dangerous and futile. Hanoi will put itself in a situation that it cannot handle.

The author is a Beijing-based expert on international studies.

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