Hanoi,Beijing should avoid direct conflict

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/6 0:38:01

The Vietnamese foreign ministry launched a strong protest against China over a military drill scheduled from Tuesday to next Monday in the waters around the Xisha Islands, saying it is a violation of Vietnam's integrity of sovereignty and a threat to the security of the South China Sea.

China will not halt the exercise just because Hanoi protested. Actually, the protest is nothing more than a routine statement by Vietnam whenever China has some movements around the Xisha Islands.

Challenging China over the Xisha Islands might be one of Hanoi's tactics to have more leverage over the Nansha disputes.

The Philippines and the US have not lodged any public complaint about the exercise, except for some media outlets. Vietnam's protest won't be put into the international spotlight.

Among all the claimants, Vietnam controls the most Nansha islets and islands; it simply wants to consolidate the beneficial status quo, so it welcomes Washington's proposal for every claimant to stop movements and maintain where they are in the South China Sea.

After the oil rig tensions in 2014, China and Vietnam are on a relatively  even keel over the territorial dispute.

Compared with the Philippines and the US, Hanoi has a much milder  approach while opposing China's reclamation construction on some of the Nansha Islands.

Hanoi's strategic purpose is to defend what it holds and legalize oil drilling in the waters it occupies. It won't provoke China if there is no major threat.

Among all China's neighbors, Vietnam has the most maritime disputes with China, and the Philippines is the most aggressive in dealing with China. Hanoi won't throw itself to the US like the Philippines, because it has close ideological connections with Beijing.

The Sino-Vietnamese relationship is delicately complex. Vietnam's stability won't remain without China's political influence, and China will have less wiggle room if Vietnam challenges China as a US ally like the Philippines. If Vietnam can play down its role in the power game around the South China Sea, China and Vietnam will have more common ground to address their bilateral territorial disputes, which will transform the landscape of the region.

So far, neither side is willing to compromise, and there is no roadmap for negotiation based on this understanding. In the short-term, Vietnam and China will stay in a pattern where both sides exchange protests but won't engage in real conflicts. It is of mutual benefit to both sides. China will focus on the aftermath of the international arbitration, and the region will feature in a strategic game between China and the US.

Posted in: Editorial

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