As the New York Times reports:
‘Tensions crept up another notch last month, after China announced plans to develop tourism in the Paracels [Islands], which the Chinese military has controlled since 1974. It was an inauspicious start to what the two governments had officially labelled their “Year of Friendship.”‘
The islands, and the nearby Spratlys, are coveted by a number of nations in the region for their rich natural gas and oil deposits, and as our APAC 2020 flashpoint special showed, have been a source of tension for years.
What is most interesting about this is the strategy that Vietnam is pursuing. While China is understandably keen to negotiate one-on-one, Vietnam is doing its best to internationalize the issue, starting with Southeast Asian nations.
The piece goes on to say that the big test of this approach will come later this year as:
‘Vietnam takes over the leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean. Vietnam is likely to use its position to try to persuade the countries to join territorial negotiations with China, analysts say. In November, Vietnam held a conference in Hanoi, its capital, where 150 scholars and officials from across Asia came to discuss disputes in the South China Sea – an opening salvo in the new strategy, analysts say.’
The US, Taiwan, India, sometimes Japan, Russia (and as Rajeev Sharma mentions in our feature today a restive Northwest border).China has a lot on its plate.