Vietnam and China are having a series of military dialogues amid tension in the South China Sea.
According to Vietnamese media, on April 25, Senior Lieutenant General Phan Van Giang, member of the Politburo and Minister of Defense, presided over the ceremony to welcome the Chinese Minister of National Defense.
General Wei Fenghe led a high-level Chinese military delegation on an official visit to Vietnam from April 24-27.
During the meetings, the two sides used many words to emphasize the “friendship” between the two countries as well as their desire to strengthen cooperation and eliminate disagreements. However, the ups and downs of the past and the disputed reality have been revealed in the messages that the two sides have for each other.
Thanh Nien newspaper quoted Minister Phan Van Giang as saying that since the two countries established diplomatic relations up to now, more than 70 years, “although there are ups and downs, historical practice shows that friendship and harmony have always been the main flow in the two-party and two-country relationship.”
At the meeting, Gen. Giang affirmed Vietnam’s point of view to settle disputes through peaceful means in the spirit of respect for each other’s legitimate rights and interests, and international law, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and well control disagreements at sea, do not complicate the situation, do not act of force or threaten the use of force.
Before that, on April 23-24, the defense ministries of the two countries conducted many dialogues and exchanges in Dongxing City, Guangxi Choang Ethnic Autonomous Region of China, and Binh Lieu district, Quang Ninh province, Vietnam, according to China International Radio.
Tensions in the South China Sea
The atmosphere of the meeting between the defense ministers of the two countries, through what the official media reported, showed a smooth and promising relationship.
However, the reality shows that Vietnam and China relations are having many disagreements that are difficult to resolve, especially the South China Sea issue.
The issue of disputes in the South China Sea is clearly shown in the 7th Vietnam-China Deputy Minister of Defense Strategic Dialogue that took place in Dong Hung city on April 23.
The dialogue was co-chaired by Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of National Defense, Lieutenant General Hoang Xuan Chien, and Deputy Chief of Staff of the Joint General Staff of the Central Military Commission of China.
At this event, the People’s Army newspaper quoted Deputy Minister Hoang Xuan Chien affirming:
“The South China Sea is the lifeline of the world, not only of economic, trade and defense-security strategic value but also geopolitical. It is necessary to actively cooperate, maintain peace and stability to bring about the common interests.”
General Chien said that Vietnam has a consistent stance that resolves disputes by peaceful resolution, well controls disputes at sea, “does not complicate the situation, does not act of force or threatens to use force.”
Chien’s words evoke the constant disputes and conflicts in the South China Sea between the two countries.
At the heart of these disagreements are sovereignty disputes over the Hoang Sa (Paracels) and the Truong Sa (Spratlys) as well as China’s “cow’s tongue line” claim that Vietnam and many other countries consider illegal.
More than a month ago, Vietnam commemorated the incident at the Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef) on March 14, 1988, in which Chinese warships opened fire and killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers.
According to South China Sea experts, Whitsun Reef is located within the territorial sea of Sinh Ton Dong (Grierson Reef) which is controlled by Vietnam, and therefore under the sovereignty of Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Chinese side always considers everything within the “cow’s tongue line” to belong to them.
Vietnam’s state media believes that the ships at Whitsun Reef were “militia ships” anchored there to serve China’s field control plots. On March 25, Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang spoke out against the above step, at the same time reiterated the Vietnamese stance that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa under Vietnam’s sovereignty.
Meanwhile, the Chinese side said their fishing vessels were docked there to avoid the wind and reaffirmed its claim of “cow’s tongue line.”
Following the tension circuits, last week, China Ship Knowledge magazine accused Vietnam of using “70,000 marine militiamen” in close coordination with the naval forces.
“This guerrilla tactic may confuse the Chinese law enforcement, which has the advantage of large ships and modern technology … If these ships are captured, the economic loss will be insignificant, but the victory on diplomacy and politics (for the Vietnamese side) are huge, so they are not afraid,” the magazine wrote.
During the same period of “friendship activities” between the two countries’ military officials, China continued to take remarkable steps at sea, when its aircraft carriers were found to be marching toward the South China Sea.
On Friday, President Xi Jinping attended the commissioning ceremony of three new warships at the Sanya Naval base on Hainan Island.
Among the new ships, notably the Type 075 amphibious ship is capable of carrying 30 helicopters and hundreds of troops. These vessels are expected to operate in the South China Sea in the near future.