On May 26, 2020, three Belgian congressmen from three different parties raised China’s aggression in the East Sea (South China Sea), including its violation in the exclusive economic zones of Malaysia and Vietnam, and sinking the fishing boats of Vietnamese fishermen near the Hoang Sa (Paracels) for discussion in a meeting of the Belgian Parliament.
The three congressmen questioned Foreign Minister cum Defense Minister Philippe Goffin about how the Belgian Kingdom responded.
Next, Congressman Georges Dallemagne (Cdh party) highlighted the current situation in the South China Sea. He said that while China was carrying out hawk communication policy promoting the policy to control the Covid-19 pandemic and its generous humanitarian support to the world, China did not hesitate to pursue expansion policies in the resource-rich sea which is also important for international trade.
He informed other colleagues that at the end of March, China announced the establishment of two research stations on Xu Bi Reef and the Cross Fierce Reef that they illegally occupied, despite the world condemnation.
Since early April, the Chinese Coast Guard has attacked Vietnamese fishermen in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.
On April 18, the Chinese state approved the establishment of two administrative regions on Phu Lam Island to control two archipelagos named the Hoang Sa (Paracels) and the Truong Sa (Spratlys), which Vietnam always claims.
Mr. Dallemagne emphasized that with the establishment of administrative areas, China wants to legalize its occupation on 80 small islands and reefs.
All of these incidents, in addition to numerous previous incidents, China violated international maritime law as well as the 2002 Declaration of the South China Sea signed between China and the ASEAN.
“Minister! I hope you will alert today about the seriousness of the incident, the danger of a military escalation, and the urgency to respond promptly.
It is very important to maintain the free seas and disputes to be resolved peacefully and legally. We must not be wrong, our security is part of worldwide security,” warned Dallemagne.
Dallemagne added that in the context, the US called on China to stop acts of bullying in disputed waters, and Washington also sent warships to the South China Sea to promote freedom of navigation there. In addition, China has deployed missiles on artificial islands in disputed areas.
“Minister, are you going to do something about China to stop them from violating the world maritime order in the South China Sea? How you are assessing the risk of a military war in this sea?” Georges Dallemagne asked the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Foreign Minister cum Defense Minister Philippe Goffin answered that Belgium always supports freedom of navigation, support for international law, freedom of navigation and air traffic (in the South China Sea). According to him, there are currently talks between China and the ASEAN on the South China Sea’s Code of Conduct (COC). He said that the dialogue will ensure respect in international law and international maritime law. Within the framework of the European Union (EU), Belgium, as an EU member, calls upon and emphasizes the importance of dialogue between stakeholders.
Dissatisfied with the answer, Congresswoman Georges Dallemagne said that while the minister assessed the COC of the South China Sea would be the solution, the reality was that China had been violating and trambling on international maritime law.
“At the same time, I have not heard the Minister making any official and clear condemnation of China’s illegal occupation of these small islands and reefs. Everyone knows that occupation serves naval and military goals,” said Georges Dallemagne.
Congressman Samuel Cogolati (Green party) particularly noted the Belgian Parliament about China’s aggressive attitude in the South China Sea.
He said that China had conducted a geological study in the center of the exclusive economic zone of Malaysia while sinking Vietnamese fishig boats. Such incidents like pouring oil into fire in the sea.
“Does the Belgian government study China’s recent actions in the South China Sea and how does the US Navy respond? Has the US shared its countermeasures plan with NATO – of which Belgium is a member – or not? How does the Belgian government take into account the reaction to the escalating military risk in the South China Sea?” Cogolati MP asked a series of questions. The Parliament will forward these questions to the Belgian Government asking for answers.
Sharing the views with the two colleagues, Els Van Hoof (Cd n V) said that Belgium needs to condemn China and emphasize through actions towards Hongkong as well as China’s violations in the South China Sea when the world is focusing on dealing with Covid-19. Belgium must be aware of China’s expansionist policy, the legislator said.
“Belgium must take timely action to safeguard freedom of navigation as well as human rights,” warns Els Van Hoof.
Social activist Nguyen Hoang Hai, from Brussels, commented on the event as follows:
My judgment of the Belgian government’s subsequent reactions after this hearing probably does not have the specific actions that the public can see, apart from the condemnation that would be made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs under pressure from legislators.
However, it is hoped that this story will be presented by the Belgian MPs in the European Parliament (MEP) during its sessions.
Chinese acts of bullying against Vietnamese fishermen, even shooting and killing our fishermen in the South Sea or illegal Chinese actions in Vietnam’s territorial waters, have been going on for decades.
The Vietnamese government has not had any effective solution, except for the spokesman to raise verbal concerns, and rarely the international voiced support with exception of the US, nor received the attention of the world.
Coincidentally, both the CDH and the Green parties voiced their opinion about China’s activities of sinking Vietnamese fishing vessels in the South China Sea with studies of the EVFTA trade agreement and they were both against the pact, citing the need to force the Vietnamese government to provide more benefits to workers, to stop the use of child labor, to abolish the harsh Criminal Code which aims to imprison those peaceful activists.
In this case, Belgium, a country located in central Europe, voiced a significant positive difference, which could reduce the level of Chinese naval aggression towards Vietnamese fishermen.
This time the Vietnamese must acknowledge the Malaysian government and the Vietnamese government for speaking out vigorously (sending diplomatic notes to the UN), and I personally hope that Vietnamese people from all over the world relationships with politicians in host countries to convey our aspirations and concern that many Vietnamese in the country are not allowed to express publicly, to the international community.
Recently on June 1, 2020, the US sent a diplomatic note to the UN to protest China’s ‘illegal’ claim in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter on June 2 that the US sent a diplomatic note to the UN to protest China’s illegal maritime claims in the South China Sea.
In the note, the US also reiterated the outcome of the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration award, which rejected Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
The US objected to this “historic right” because it thought it exceeded the maritime rights enjoyed by China as reflected in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The US also argued that China’s vast claims of interest in the South China Sea “were intended to hinder the right and freedom of navigation of the US and all other countries.” Given that countries like Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia have officially voiced their opposition to these claims, the US once again requires China to comply with international law, the ruling of the international court in the Hague, and stop provocative activities in the South China Sea.
In the letter attached to the note, US Ambassador to the UN Ms. Kelly Craft requested the agency to send this objection letter to all members of the UN and post publicly on the website of the United Nations legal office.
Before the US, on May 26, Indonesia sent a note to the UN, protesting the claims set out in three Chinese notes, including the one above.
Before Indonesia, on March 30, Vietnam sent a diplomatic note to the UN, opposing the aforementioned Chinese note, affirming that this claim seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty, sovereignty and jurisdiction of Vietnam in the South China Sea.
Talking to BBC News Vietnamese on the morning of June 3, Master Hoang Viet, an expert on the South China Sea, commented that the latest US diplomatic note sent to the UN against China showed that the US clearly affirmed its position that it is a stakeholder in the South China Sea.
On the Vietnamese side, Mr. Hoang Viet said that Vietnam needs to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance the promotion of relations with the US and other countries that share the same viewpoint in the South China Sea. In particular, it is necessary to take advantage of the role of ASEAN president to persuade states to take the same position in making a legally binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea to control China.