Observers told the BBC Sea about the US statements and actions regarding the South China Sea (Vietnamese call it the East Sea) recently.
They share their comments on the novelty and the quality impact on security in the region’s South China Sea, especially given China’s long-standing steps and plans.
Associate Professor Jonathan London (Leiden University, Netherlands): I think the content is nothing new, but the way of speaking is stronger than before and that I see is a progress, I can say that. The only thing that I see is that Trump’s administration has a very clear voice that all of China’s sovereignty claims are completely unacceptable. And for this statement, I think there is also a value to the whole region.
What is regrettable is that in the US declaration, there is not yet a plan, a way that countries in the region can work together to protect their interests in the South China Sea. But I fully agree that this is a change that is not just about the content, but about the level of clarity of US actions in the South China Sea and that the US’s declaration is welcomed.
Professor Ngo Vinh Long (University of Maine, USA): The new issue here is that the US asserts that the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration The Hague (in the case of the Philippines won a lawsuit against China several years ago) is correct and that China has violated the law. This time the US made it very clear that it supported the decision of the above-mentioned Arbitration Court and said that China’s activities since then were in violation of international law, that is a matter of law, so the US will take this issue in coming multilateral or bilateral meetings and thus other countries will also have an advantage to take advantage of.
Associate Professor Hoang Ngoc Giao (Director of Institute of Policy, Law and Development): This week the US’s statement and move to the South China Sea – marking a consistent and tough step in foreign policy of the US, in response to China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, asserted that the US position does not allow China to undermine order based on international law in the South China Sea.
This is a new content in US foreign policy, creating a fundamental change in security in the South China Sea. For ASEAN countries, especially those in the South China Sea, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the United States continues to affirm its consistent support for their efforts to fight against Beijing’s military rape and adventure in the South China Sea. For China, this is a serious warning about Beijing’s strategy of monopolizing the South China Sea with acts of undermining international law, namely the 1982 UN International Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Dr. Hà Hoàng Hợp (senior researcher, Iseas Institute, Singapore): In fact, the US opposes China’s sovereignty claim over the 9-segment line and the parts that lie 12 nautical miles away of artificial islands built by China. This does not mean that the US recognizes China has sovereignty over these shoals!
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo’s July 13 statement of recognition of sovereignty is not new: since June 2017, U.S. defense ministers (Mattis, Shanahan, Esper) have stated it on numerous occasions (on Website, in bilateral meetings, in regional security forums …). Pompeo’s statement this time has two new points, which rejects China’s specific sovereignty claims over Vietnam’s Vanguard Bank, Lucosia of Malaysia, and Natuna Besar in Indonesia. The second new point is that the US works alongside our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereignty over offshore resources, in accordance with their rights and obligations in accordance with international law, we stand by the international community to protect freedom in the seas and respect our sovereignty and reject any attempt to impose the ‘righteous man’ in the South China Sea or larger area.” These two new points show that the US asserts the supremacy of the international public law and almost sees the ASEAN coastal countries as US allies!”
Song Chi freelance journalist (former TV director): The problem is both new and not new. In my opinion, the new attitude is clearer. Outright rejection of China’s claims in the South China Sea, clearly denouncing the absurd ambition of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese bullying towards its neighbors. But the content is nothing new, as it is still under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
On the other hand, the Americans’ idea is clear that in my opinion, the dispute over sovereignty over islands is a matter of related states, the US does not interfere, but China cannot monopolize the freedom of navigation of the US in the South China Sea. American interests are there. Thus, for Vietnam, for example, how to reclaim Hoang Sa, a part of Truong Sa, or how to keep the remaining islands in Truong Sa is Vietnam’s story.
Asked about China’s reaction and especially how it might respond, such as “removing bottom-of-pot wood” or “escalating” or finding a solution to avoid confrontation strategy and move toward haggling to “win-win” with the US, observers said.
Associate Professor Hoang Ngoc Giao: The reaction of China – remains the same as before, refuted, quibbled, and deceived. They contend that the situation in the South China Sea is still peaceful (sinking fishing vessels, often encroaching upon Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone, harassing islands, waters of the Philippines, Malaysia, etc.); China is negotiating with the ASEAN countries with the Code of Conduct (COC) (it has tried to suspend the process for the past 20 years to get time to carry out military militarization activities in the South China Sea, it is unbelievable!); China believes that the US, a country outside the region, is causing tensions in the South China Sea. The South China Sea is the Sea of freedom of navigation and overflight of all countries in the world, is the Sea including the territorial waters and sovereignty of the countries along the East Sea in accordance with the Law of International Sea; The South China Sea is not China’s home pond. Like all other countries, the US is a responsible and reputable nation in ensuring the maintenance of International Law anywhere, as well as in the South China Sea.
China will not concede due to the US Secretary of State’s 13 July 2020 Statement on the South China Sea. They still handle the South China Sea problem as they did for Hongkong. China is also hard to trade, bargaining in a way that “wins” with the US about the South China Sea. The US cannot lose its international prestige and long-term strategic interests in the South China Sea. However, China can use unclean tactics to pressure, bribe, entice some ASEAN countries to support each of China’s legal and political acts in implementing expansion strategies which aim to acquire the resource-rich sea.
Dr. Hà Hoàng Hợp: China naturally opposes the above opinion of the US. Beijing says the US is not a country in the South China Sea, does not participate in UNCLOS 1982, the US statement causes tension … and that China will oppose that view with action. China’s Global Times newspaper also said China is ready for military confrontation with the US in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
The US is stepping up its operations, with allies and friends (in Southeast Asia), to help countries defend their sovereignty over offshore resources.
The situation in the South China Sea will be increasingly tense – China continues to crush Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, as China is increasingly resolute with its claim to the nine-dash line in the South China Sea. Although neither side wants war, the risk of armed conflict is increasing day by day.
Song Chi- freelance journalist: It can be seen that immediately a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China or some Chinese officials spoke out strongly. In the near future, I think that Beijing will probably continue to respond strongly with their mouths, scare each other, or at the very least, there will be some economic retaliation, but they don’t want the things to lead to a military confrontation. So far China has avoided military confrontation, unless it is likely to win or if the war will only take a short time, such as the border war with India in 1962 or Vietnam in 1979.
And a protracted war is something that China has no experience and would ever want, more than anyone else to know if it confronted the US, or even confronted India or Vietnam in a protracted war. They will take a lot. For many years, the economic instability in the country will explode, the people of Tibet, Uighur, Hong Kong will rise, etc. China has chosen and will choose another path. No need to spend a bullet, win on soft power, compete for influence in the world, win in economics, technology, or weave, seek to entice, bribe small, institutionalized countries and non-democratic politics while eroding, destroying other democratic institutions in the world, etc. The Chinese are not foolish to confront the military with the US.
But in the long run, both the US and China understand the importance of this sea. If China controlled this sea area, they would multiply. America also understands the same. Bargain to win together? This is a bit difficult because it is impossible to bargain when the interests and positions of the two sides are in conflict, on the other hand, Beijing is greedy and too greedy, so it is difficult to bargain with a regime like so.
The South China Sea is a card?
To the question whether both the US and Chinese governments and leadership led by President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping are using the “South China Sea” as a card for export political purposes from their internal partners or not, whether this is a real strategy game that is thought by both sides of the long-distance, the comments shared with the BBC:
Associate Professor Hoang Ngoc Giao: President Trump’s tough stance towards China is consistent on economic and human rights aspects. This position is also clearly expressed in international political and security issues (Hongkong, Taiwan, and the South China Sea), and receives widespread support not only in the Republican and Democratic Party, which most American voters agree with. This is a calculated step of Trump’s administration, preparing for the US Presidential election on November 3, 2020.
Xi will probably use tough U.S. objections to China’s expansionist behavior as a tool to craft an adventurous military policy that incites extremist nationalism in China in order to consolidate his dominant position in the Party, as Deng Xiaoping did when he invaded Vietnam in the years 1979 – 1988.
Dr. Hà Hoàng Hợp: China’s claiming sovereignty over nine-dashed line in the South China Sea is a core policy, not a card of Beijing! The US objected to the statement and it was not a card, it was an important component of America’s national security and defense strategy, where it considered China a strategic competitor!
Free journalist Song Chi: I suppose so. Both the US and China are having their problems. On the side of dictatorial states like China, one of the familiar tricks they often use is “turning fire to the outside,” alleviating internal tensions by creating external conflicts, partly to promote the national spirit of the people. Xi Jinping is no stranger to these games. On the US side, President Donald Trump is facing disadvantages before the upcoming election season, due to the US government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the US of coronavirus infection and the highest number of deaths in the world, and the current pandemic situation has not been optimistic, this has created criticism of the majority of Americans, high unemployment due to the pandemic, besides are the deep divisions in American society, the Black Lives Matter movement …
Given that situation, toughness in China is clearly a subject of consensus on both Democrats and Republicans, and both President Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden are seeking to testify to show who’s tougher with China.
However, the current deal with China is also a long-term strategy board of the US. The Communist Party of China under Xi Jinping has clearly expressed its ambition to rise to challenge America’s position in the Asia-Pacific region, even globally. So I think that whether the Democratic Party or the Republican Party is coming to power in the near future, there will be a policy of restraining the Red China in all aspects. And countries from western Europe, Australia, Canada, Korea, Japan … so can continue to do business with China but will be wary, will find ways to not be too dependent on China “factories” and will do not trust, do not consider China to be a friend.
What policies to deal with China?
When asked whether Vietnam and other countries in the region, including those in Southeast Asia (Asean), more broadly including Japan, Taiwan and even Australia, should be aware of the new movement. As announced in the US policy on the South China Sea and before China recently, especially regarding Vietnam, how should the policy be taken?
Dr. Ha Hoang Hop: The US position in the July 13 statement coincides with Vietnam’s position on the Vanguard Bank area – that is, the Vanguard Bank belongs to Vietnam, there is no sovereignty dispute with China. there, because China has no sovereignty there. Japan and other countries in the region (such as Australia, New Zealand …) and other countries (such as the UK, France …) all support an international order based on rules of law, so countries will continue to act. Because of that international order, Taiwan continues to oppose Beijing’s one-state, two-regime policy and continues to build democracy and freedom in Taiwan!
Song Chi freelance journalist: That new move, the US, will protect their interests in this region and so will the countries. As for Vietnam, which is heavily bullied but responded only with verbal and symbolical protects, Hanoi needs to be stronger. Vietnam should also consider bringing the Hoang Sa (Paracels) and the Truong Sa (Spratlys) lawsuits to international courts, firstly because the 50-year time limit for the Paracels is about to end, secondly, if the lawsuit is initiated, a judgment from the court, for example, in the case of the Philippines, the US and Western countries, it is also easier to have a legal basis to support Vietnam.
It was also recently reported in international media that Vietnam agreed to pay a compensation of about $1 billion to two international oil and gas companies after canceling their projects in the South China Sea because of China’s pressure:
Associate Professor Hoang Ngoc Giao: Based on the information in international media, while Vietnamese media seems to be unknown, there are clearly two events occurring in 2016 as well as 2018, related to Lan Tay field, as well as Ca Rong Do field and related to Spain’s oil exploration company Repsol that they were “forced to withdraw.” That story according to international media, as well as according to domestic unofficial public opinion, is such an event. Vietnam has been forced to stop cooperating with Spanish company Repsol in the exploitation of oil and gas blocks located on Vietnam’s continental shelf, which is unofficial information in the country, but international media reported.
Regarding the value that Vietnam has to pay Repsol with the most recent information that is more than $1 billion, the number is probably verified, but the problem is not about how much compensation, that is important. In part, while Vietnam’s national budget is in such a shortage, I am not saying it is completely unimportant, but it is much more important that it is an act of bullying and pressuring the Chinese side towards Vietnam in exercising its right to exploit resources in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Perhaps it is also in the event that is implied by US Secretary of State Pompeo when it comes to the fact that China has committed acts of bullying and undermining sovereignty in resource exploitation of countries in the South China Sea, I think this is the most obvious example …
Free journalist Song Chi: I’m not sure about the amount, but if it does, it will again show what Hanoi can be seriously bullied by Beijing as well as heavy economic losses Vietnam is suffering on this sea because of the greed and aggression of the Chinese Communist Party.
Dr. Ha Hoang Hop: So far, no country or relevant authority has confirmed or denied this information, so I have no comments!
Professor Ngo Vinh Long: I know this story and I find that the US Secretary of State’s recent statement also mentioned it, although he did not make it clear and said that China had committed a crime that was specifically a problem. The oil is in Vietnam’s continental shelf, which China threatens a foreign company and they are forced to leave and Vietnam has to pay compensation. No idea how much compensation, but this is a matter the US and other countries said to be illegal.