Vietnam People’s Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flankers’ have mounted their first patrols of the disputed Spratly Islands (Link is in Vietnamese) from their base at Phu Cat,
the Base Leg Blog quotes Vietnamese portal Thanh Vien online on Tuesday. Thanh Vien had published the newslet on Saturday.
Also on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei reportedly told a news conference that Vietnam’s recent action was a serious violation of China’s sovereignty.
The spokesman urged Vietnam to strictly abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, avoid actions escalating or complicating the situation, and make efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability,
Sina English quoted Hong Lei.
The declaration Hong referred to was signed in Phnom Penh in November 2002, by China’s special envoy and former vice foreign minister Wang Yi, and by the foreign ministers of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam (i. e. between ASEAN and China). Among a number of points, the signatory states reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (3), undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force (4), and undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features (5).
As there is no agreement about whose claims on the South China sea are legitimate, the Declaration basically defines a code of conduct in handling the uncertainties.
In February 2010, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times that the most vociferous claimants were Vietnam and China. It had also been Vietnam who had been
pushing hard behind the scenes to bring more foreign players into negotiations so that China will have to bargain in a multilateral setting with all Southeast Asian nations that have territorial claims in the South China Sea. This goes against China’s preference, which is to negotiate one on one with each country.
In an interview with the Asahi Shimbun in spring or summer 2010, then commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Patrick Walsh said that China had started describing the South China Sea as its “core interest” – a term that had until then been reserved for Taiwan and Tibet.
Since then, Chinese officials have kept maintaining that multilateral initiatives, i. e. an internationalized rather than a bilateral approach to resolving the South China Sea disputes, would only complicate the issues. In a comparatively blunt statement, Chinese vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai was quoted by Phoenix Satellite Television (HK) in June 2011 that a few countries were playing with fire, and he hoped that America wouldn’t burn itself.
In July that same year, ASEAN and China drafted another agreement, setting out somewhat more specific guidelines for the implementation of their 2002 declaration, and in October 2011, China’s and Vietnam’s party leaders, Hu Jintao and Nguyen Phu Trong, signed yet another – and bilaterally negotiated – document, the Agreement on Basic Principles concerning guidance for the Resolution of Sino-Vietnamese South China Sea Issues.
War scenarios are only publicly discussed in the Chinese media, but even then, Yin Zhuo (尹卓), a special commentator (not a politician) who provided the public with startegic information on Huanqiu Online Television on Wednesday, expressed hope that
we are both socialist countries, friendly neighbors, and things must not get to such a state [of military conflict]. Of course, China doesn’t work into that direction, but you, the Vietnamese, must not push China into that direction.