By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
January 9, 2008
China and Vietnam are engaged in a long-standing dispute over territory and resources in the South China Sea. Both China and Vietnam claim ownership of the Spratley Islands group.
A Chinese patrol boat. Vietnam has protested over Chinese military exercises in the disputed Paracel archipelago and reasserted its claim over the islands.
Recently the intensity of the dispute came to a boil so intense that expatriate Vietnamese in the U.S. joined with their countrymen at home in objecting to China’s actions and intentions.
The Spratly Islands, a string of rocky outcrops in the South China Sea suspected of spanning large oil and gas deposits, are also claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
China seized the Paracel Islands, a set of islets just north of the Spratly group, in 1974 and has occupied them since despite Vietnamese protests. But in 1974, Vietnam was in no position to contest China effectively. Hanoi was planning the takeover of South Vietnam and its capitol, Saigon, lay fixed in its sights. China exploited the Vietnamese during the war in Vietnam – then later said “Why did Vietnam not protest louder in 1974?”
Vietnam has long been wary of its bigger Asian neighbor and in 1979 the two countries fought a border war.
Chinese and Vietnamese forces clashed in the South China Sea in 1988 and 1992, and on both occasions the Chinese emerged victorious. Both countries have put forward historical and archeological evidence to support their claims in the disputed waters, and China has produced historical records showing it sent naval expeditions to the Spratleys as early as in 110 A.D.
In June, 2007, British Petroleum (BP) Plc halted plans to conduct exploration work off the southern Vietnamese coast, citing the territorial tensions. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Vietnam was stirring up trouble by agreeing with BP and its partners to develop the area.
On November 20, 2007, the government of China endorsed a resolution to establish an administrative city at county level named “Tam Sa”, which consists of three archipelagoes of Hoang Sa, Trung Sa (MacClesfield Bank, a submerged reefs of 6,250 square kilometers located on the east and about 250 km from the center of Hoang Sa), and Truong Sa, directly dependent on the province of Hai Nam. This province was established in 1988 after it was separated from the province of Quang Dong. Due to the sensitivity of the subject, the resolution has not been publicly released.
Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratleys) are located offshore of Vietnam.
In December, 2007, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news conference, “China asserts indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands.”
He added, “Recently in Vietnam there have been developments unfavorable to friendly ties between China and Vietnam, and we are highly concerned.”
Qin said Hanoi had to take steps to “prevent further developments and avoid harming bilateral relations.”
Mr. Qin Gang was undoubtedly referring to a dip in relations between China and Vietnam over the issue of the islands. Late last year, hundreds of Vietnamese youths staged public protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in response to the decision by the Chinese government to establish a new administrative city with control over the three archipelagos in the South China Sea, two of which are also claimed by Vietnam.
Bloggers in Vietnam launched upon a vocal and long-
term campaign of criticizing China as a result of the Spratleys issue. The noise made by the bloggers was so intense that China assumed the government of Vietnam had supported or at least sanctioned the activity.
China Sea sparked protests
The people of Vietnam have a deep sense that the
larger bully is getting away with victimizing the smaller
and less powerful neighbor. In a sense, the Vietnamese
now understand how the Chinese in Taiwan feel about their large communist neighbor.
The issue between Vietnam and China remains unresolved and at this writing there is no clear path toward a resolution. This means there is a simmering disagreement in the South China Sea that the international community ignores at its own peril.