A number of Vietnamese officials have now threatened to bring legal action against China over their territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Speaking to Bloomberg News on Friday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said that Vietnam is preparing to bring its territorial row with China to an international arbitrator. “We are prepared and ready for legal action,” Dung said, according to Bloomberg. “We are considering the most appropriate timing to take this measure.”
Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh reiterated the prime minister’s statement on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore over the weekend. He also stated that China has asked Vietnam not to pursue legal action. “They [China] have asked us several times not to bring the case to international court,” Vinh told reporters on the sidelines of the annual security forum. “Our response was that it’s up to China’s activities and behavior; if they continue to push us, we have no choice. This [legal] option is also in accordance with international law.”
Earlier in the summit, Vinh held a bilateral meeting with Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Party, the highest ranking military official Beijing sent to the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Vietnam was one of many countries who used the Shangri-La Dialogue to criticize China’s actions in Asia’s maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas. As The Diplomat has previously reported, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made implicit criticisms of China’s recent actions in his keynote speech on Friday, while U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made more explicit criticisms of China.
Australia also criticized China’s recent actions. “They’ve been certainly unhelpful, and if they’re unhelpful they must be destabilizing,” Australian Defense Minister David Johnston said at the Singapore conference. “The unilateral action of the declaration of boundaries is completely unhelpful and takes us in the wrong direction.”
General Wang lashed out at both Japan and the United States during his own speech to the annual forum on Sunday. He accused Tokyo and Washington of colluding together in criticizing China, though he said he preferred Hagel’s remarks because they were more direct than Abe’s, which didn’t mention China directly.
Vietnam’s threats to take up its case for sovereignty with an international arbitrator has obvious parallels with the Philippines, who is also appealing to international courts to deal with its territorial disputes with China over parts of the South China Sea. Last month, Prime Minister Dung traveled to the Philippines to meet with President Benigno Aquino III as well as attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia. Dung said during the trip that the two leaders “shared deep concern over the current extremely dangerous situation caused by China’s many actions that violate international law.”
Around the same time, Dung told the Associated Press that, “like all countries, Vietnam is considering various defense options, including legal actions in accordance with the international law.” According to the Associated Press, it was the first time Vietnam had seriously considered using international law to help resolve its dispute with China. Two unnamed Vietnamese diplomats told the Associated Press at the time that Vietnam might join the Philippines ongoing case or else begin its own complaint against China.
China has refused to answer the case the Philippines filed with an international tribunal at The Hague. It is likely to pursue a similar strategy if Vietnam appeals to international law in its own disputes with China. Interestingly, in his remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue, General Wang rejected U.S. criticisms that China isn’t following international law by noting that the U.S. has not signed onto the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.