While Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh once said in April this year that Vietnam knew who was its best friend, who was just a partner … implying China’s continuous violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the US’s actions specifically defending Vietnam, Senior Lieutenant General Vo Tien Trung again equated the US and Chinese military exercises in the sea that both countries were only mocking martial arts.
Dan Viet newspaper, on July 8, conducted an interview with Gen. Vo Tien Trung, regarding the Chinese exercise in the Hoang Sa (Paracels) on July 1-5 and the US’s sending its warships to the South China Sea for military exercises.
Gen. Trung, a former member of the ruling communist party’s Central Committee and former director of the National Defense Academy, said in this interview that China’s exercise in Vietnam’s territorial waters is a violation of the Vietnamese sovereignty. At the same time, the US action in the South China Sea is to “embarrass” China, wanting to assert its status as the No. 1 military and economic superpower, not to allow China to rise and threaten its role.
Trung also emphasized that the US and China exercises were aimed at “marching martial arts, making grandeur.” However, these two countries have caused instability and tensions in the South China Sea.
The retied Vietnamese general noted that the US exercise in the South China Sea was not to support Vietnam in defending its sovereignty. Therefore, Vietnam needs to oppose all acts that infringe upon the sovereignty of Vietnam and ASEAN countries. He urged the ASEAN bloc to unite in opposing the US and China to exercise in the South China Sea, as well as showing the attitude for the two countries to refrain their actions, without causing further complication and special especially not repeated.
What do experts say?
South China Sea researcher Hoang Viet, on the evening of July 9, told RFA that the statement of Gen. Trung showed:
“He is a general but he does not well understand the issues because there are too many generals in Vietnam, but in what field and in what angle do they speak? I personally think that sometimes he does not understand the problem. Most recently, in the article of a Chinese professor, Mr. Wu Si Ton, he posed a problem that the situation in the South China Sea was very worrying. And this stems from two causes. According to Wu, the first reason is that the US has stimulated militarization in the East Sea. And second, is ASEAN countries; including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, together with China created an influence on the role of China. Then, we have to raise the question that Gen. Trung must understand that not the US or ASEAN countries have caused tensions in the South China Sea, but we must point out the problem directly is that the tension in the East Sea starting from China.”
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Chu also published an article on his personal Facebook page on July 9 to respond to Gen. Trung.
In an article titled “Mr. Vo Tien Trung, do not confuse an invader at sea,” Dr. Chu cited evidence proving that China has committed violations of Vietnam’s territorial sovereignty. The evidence from the invasion of Paracels in January 1974 lasted until the latest on July 4 this year as Beijing deployed its Coast Guard ship 5402 to Vietnam’s Vanguard Bank to threaten Vietnamese rig at the Lan Tay gas field. Two days later, on July 6, the surveillance vessel moved to the Phong Lan Dai oil field at a distance of 2.5 nautical miles.
By listing a number of clear and important developments that the Chinese side “disturbed” Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, Dr. Chu mentioned the issue that whether does Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs or any ASEAN’s country oppose the US drills in the South China Sea or not.
Dr. Chu raised the question of why Gen. Trung did not recognize the US Navy presence as very important, and very beneficial for Vietnam. The Chu answered by himself that Gen. Trung’s statement did not represent “the intellect and courage of the Vietnamese generals and army.”
Dr. Ha Hoang Hop, an independent research expert, affirmed that the statement of Gen. Trung was only an opinion of an individual and did not represent anyone.
“He did not understand the relationship between Vietnam and the US now. He also does not understand the US policies in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean too. He did not even understand that China ‘s aggression at sea was not only a “march of martial arts” but also a very clear purpose of monopolizing the South China Sea.”
Dr. Hop also provided further evidence that China’s aggression was increasing not only in the South China Sea.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, China did many things everywhere, including in the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea, the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea in both the Spratlys and Paracels, and on crossroads through the Philippines and the two strait of Indonesia, then Malacca strait between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. China also deploys ships to that area quite crowded. So, to be honest, China is having a plan to expand and use its power at sea so that the countries involved, including Vietnam, lose their vigilance so it can cause conflict.”
Dr. Hop argued that Gen. Trung made the statement because he did not read about US policy in the Indo-Pacific. As an independent researcher, he said that Gen. Trung did not understand anything about the US having national interests in the South China Sea. In the US national security strategy, there are 4 big points, of which the second is an important point “protecting peace with strength.” So the US exercise is to protect the interests of all nations, including the US.
Hop also argued that it is possible that the statement of Gen. Trung implies that there are different views in Vietnam or that it can be understood that although Vietnam has changed greatly in international relations but there are also people who resist that progress.
Regarding Trung’s call for the solidarity of ASEAN countries to oppose China and the US who are causing instability and tension in the South China Sea, researcher Hoang Viet said Vietnam, as the chairman ASEAN 2020, faced many obstacles and challenges because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Vietnam has a lot of plans in promoting and solidarity in ASEAN, especially in the East Sea issue. But in the first 6 months of 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19, originating from China, has greatly affected Vietnam as the ASEAN’s rotating president. Despite this, Vietnam has tried its best, through the latest online meeting, to make a joint statement of ASEAN which uses UNCLOS 1982 as a basis for resolving disagreements in the East Sea.”
The US opposes Chinese intervention in oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea
US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink repeatedly voiced opposition to China’s threat against the exploitation of oil and gas in the South China Sea.
“We oppose the efforts of several countries in the region to try to intervene in the long-standing energy exploration activities in the South China Sea, including Vietnam, in long-established lots,” Ambassador Kritenbrink said in an online exchange with VietnamNet’s readers on July 7.
“We think it is important that nations do not use force or coercion or bullying to find ways to advance their interests,” the US diplomat added.
Earlier, at a press conference on July 2 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of US-Vietnam diplomatic relations, Ambassador Kritenbrink spoke out against China’s actions in intervention and obstruction to the oil and gas exploitation of other countries in the South China Sea.
“In particular, we oppose China ‘s efforts to prevent ASEAN countries from accessing and exploiting S2.5 trillion in resources in these waters,” Vietnam’s media quoted Krietenbrink as saying.
“We believe that China took advantage of the crisis caused by COVID-19, to intensify provocation and show aggression in the South China Sea for its benefit. The US opposes China, or any other country, to use coercive measures to increase its claims in the South China Sea. China needs to stop provocative activities that affect regional stability,” Thanh Nien newspaper quoted the US Ambassador as saying.
He said: “We will work with countries in the region to promote a peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea as well as adhere to international law, including cooperation with ASEAN countries and other international organizations to ensure the maintenance of freedom of navigation, the right to fly across and unimpeded trade activities in this area.”