Vietnam Eyes Foreign Help
Image Credit: Maurice Koop

Vietnam Eyes Foreign Help


Vietnam has raised the stakes a little more in its current row with China, calling on the United States and others to step in and help find some kind of resolution.

The request comes on the back of a number of confrontations over the past few weeks in the South China Sea, a region that’s hotly contested by the two, as well as several Southeast Asian countries. Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand also claim various parts of the area, but it’s Vietnam’s claims of harassment by Chinese vessels that have been making headlines.

On Thursday, Vietnam claimed that Chinese boats had again trespassed into its territory, and it accused China of deliberately trying to cut undersea cables deployed by a ship hired by PetroVietnam. This is far from the first spat – as I noted here last year, Vietnam has been angered at the repeated detention of fishermen trawling near the disputed Paracel Islands, which Vietnam claims.

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Reuters has a useful timeline of the recent tensions, to which should be added the new call by Vietnam for intervention by the international community. Bloomberg today quoted Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga as saying:

‘Maintaining peace, stability, security, and maritime safety in the Eastern Sea is the common interest of the countries inside and outside the region…Every effort by the international community in maintaining peace and stability in the Eastern Sea is welcome.’

This will, of course, be anathema to Beijing, which has resisted foreign involvement in territorial disputes. Indeed, China was angered by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s suggestion last July that the United States could be an intermediary.

Vietnam has pledged to undertake navy drills tomorrow, and meanwhile it has been tolerating rare demonstrations by hundreds of protesters angry at what they see as China’s violations of Vietnamese territory.

Writing here earlier this week, Huy Duong suggested that the best way for Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations to respond to what they see as an overbearing China will be for them to work together.

Will they? Minxin Pei has an interesting piece for us up today on the dispute – and what China should do to ease tensions. But I also asked Vietnam watcher Tran Huu Dung, a professor of economics at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, for his take.

‘It’s widely agreed among those who pay attention to the balance of powers in Southeast Asia that the only way for Vietnam, or any single country in the region, to push back China is to band together,’ he told me. ‘However, this would mean that the Vietnamese must recognize that they should also acknowledge the interests of other countries in the region. These interests may be different from theirs. A clearly stated, long-term regional policy incorporating these considerations hasn’t been offered by the Vietnamese.’

I also asked him for his view on the latest tensions between China and Vietnam, and how optimistic he is that future rows can be resolved peacefully.

‘The tension between Vietnam and China goes back thousands of years, and there’s no reason to expect that it will ever end. However, this doesn’t mean that the two countries can’t co-exist peacefully for a long period of time,’ he said. ‘This peaceful co-existence depends not only on the behaviour of the Chinese government, but also on how they perceive the weakness of the Vietnamese leadership. The recent incident could be looked at as a test of this leadership.’

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