Soon after both the Philippines and China withdrew their boats from the disputed Scarborough Shoal and its surrounding sea area on the excuse of poor weather, Philippine president Benigno Aquino III said on June 20 he would send ships back to the shoal after the weather cleared if the Chinese ships have not left the area by then. We are not to see an end of the conflicts in that area.
On the other hand, Vietnam adopted a new law that designated Spratly and Paracel islands as Vietnamese territory. Associated Press reported from Beijing on June 21, that China summoned Vietnam’s ambassador on June 21 to protest against the new law.
The report says, “Beijing’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun told ambassador Nguyen Van Tho China had sole jurisdiction over the Spratly and Paracel islands, and Vietnam’s inclusion of them under its maritime law was illegal and invalid, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a briefing.”
According to the report, last year Beijing had undertaken a series of exchanges seeking to cool anti-Chinese sentiment in Vietnam over the maritime territorial disputes and said repeatedly that commercial navigation in the South China Sea would not be affected by its maritime territorial claims.
However, emboldened by US return to Asia, like the Philippines, Vietnam has also taken active moves in the area.
SCMP’s Teddy Ng reported on June 22: In response, China has announced its plan to establish “a new prefecture-level city named Sansha to manage the Spratly, Paracel and Macclesfield Bank island chains and their surrounding waters. Its local government will be based on Woody Island, also known as Yongxing Island, which is part of the Paracels.”
On June 23, Teddy Ng reported again the diplomatic exchange of protests between the two countries, each of which claims sovereignty and refute the other’s claim over Spratly and Paracel island chains.
It remains to be seen whether the war of words will lead to actual war. In my May 19 post ”Foreign gun boats’ manoeuvre blocked by Chinese ship” I said, “According to Global Times, on May 18, China Fishery Administration 310 successfully frightened away three foreign gun boats and made them cease their chasing of Chinese fishing boats. It has thus protected five Chinese fishing boats.”
The three gun boats mentioned in the official report were in fact Vietnamese ones. In order to avoid tension between the two countries, the official newspaper refrained from mentioning the nationality of the gun boats. Now the two countries have both made public their disputes.
China now uses an administrative ship to counter Vietnamese gun boats with clear intention to avoid confrontation between the two navies. However, Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV said in its report that two Vietnamese advanced fighter aircrafts have recently been seen patrolling the disputed sea area. Philippine President Aquino has also said that he would send aircraft to Scarborough Shoal.
The complicity of the issues will test the ability and wisdom of China’s new generation of leaders in protecting China’s sovereignty while maintaining peace in the disputed areas.
- China declares Vietnam’s claim over islands “illegal and invalid” (chinadailymail.com)
- China’s nine-dashed line in South China Sea (chinadailymail.com)
- Beijing Creates A City In The South China Sea (chinabystander.wordpress.com)