Beijing Asked to Clarify Claims

Nationalistic fervor among young Vietnamese and in the Chinese military ramp up tensions in the South China Sea.

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spratlytraining305.jpg A picture taken by the Vietnam News Agency shows Vietnamese sailors training on the Spratly islands, June 14, 2011.
EyePress News

Singapore called on Beijing Monday to clarify its intentions over disputed island chains in the South China Sea, as official Chinese media reacted to raging anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam.

Unlike the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, the city state claims no part of the Spratlys or Paracel island chains in question.

But a Chinese surveillance vessel, the Haixun 31, docked in Singapore after passing through the South China Sea on Monday, apparently triggering a response.

"We...think it is in China's own interests to clarify its claims in the [South China Sea] with more precision as the current ambiguity as to their extent has caused serious concerns in the international maritime community," the Singapore foreign ministry said in a statement.

"As a major trading nation, Singapore has a critical interest in anything affecting freedom of navigation in all international sea lanes," it said.

The statement came amid escalating tensions in the region following a third weekend of anti-China protests in Vietnam and warnings in the official Chinese media to Vietnam not to try to involve the United States.

Vietnam and China have held separate live-fire military exercises in the area after Hanoi accused Chinese ships of ramming one oil survey ship and cutting the exploration cables of another.

'Force the hand'

The official English-language China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Monday that Hanoi seemed to be trying to force the hand of both Beijing and Washington over the islands.

"After years of...bickering over the South China Sea, both China and ASEAN are showing signs of fatigue as there has been no progress yet towards a resolution," the paper said.

"But, that does not mean it is currently an opportune time for Vietnam or other "claimants" to pounce on "the chance" to "settle an old account" with China."

Beijing has said it will use neither force nor the threat of force to settle the dispute, while the Philippines and Vietnam say they are alarmed by increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed waters.

Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, said the Vietnamese demonstrations at the weekend sent "a dangerous signal" to the international community.

"There were a lot of young people protesting...some were organized by the government but there were also a lot there who acted of their own accord," Li said.

"Their placards were home-made, not government printed," he added. "There is a lot of historical background to the nationalism of the Vietnamese people, which is very strong."

But he said: "This nationalist mood is very dangerous."

Military confrontation fears

Xie Jiaye, head of the California-based America-China Association for Science & Technology Exchange, said he did not rule out the possibility of a military confrontation between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

"China and Vietnam, historically, have had a number of military clashes, including over the Spratlys and the Sino-Vietnamese War (February-March 1979)," Xie said. "This means that another clash isn't out of the question."

But he said he thought it was avoidable. "Relations between Vietnam and the U.S. have got it's up to China to do a bit more diplomatic work."

Xie said simply telling Washington or third countries not to get involved was "a bit simplistic."

"Perhaps China could...sit down for talks with Washington, and let the United States do some of the work."

"Telling third countries to stay out of it is going to further Vietnam's interests," Xie added.

Meanwhile, Li said Beijing has its own hawks to deal with. "There are a lot of voices in the Chinese military wanting to start a war [over this], especially in the navy," he said.

"They think that Vietnam should be taught a lesson, and this is also very dangerous."

Anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam intensified on Sunday as several leading activists joined in to defend Hanoi’s claims in a rally near the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi.

Protesters carried slogans such as “Down with China!” and “The Spratlys and Paracels belong to Vietnam,” referring to the island groups at the heart of a longstanding bilateral dispute.

Live-fire drills

On June 13, Vietnam held four hours of live-fire drills in the South China Sea and on Friday, China announced that it had also held similar exercises.

Vietnam has welcomed foreign involvement to resolve the rival claims to the potentially resource-rich waters.

On Friday, American and Vietnamese officials met in Washington for an annual political, security, and defense dialogue and called for all territorial disputes in the South China Sea to be resolved through a “collaborative, diplomatic process without coercion or the use of force.”

They also called for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which encompasses an area from the Singapore and Malacca straits to the Strait of Taiwan.

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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Jun 30, 2011 07:23 AM

There are skilled pirates who robbed poor people at their own house. After their crime, the pirates claim against those victims as robbers. When police came, the pirates said they want to bilateral talks between them and the victims, police could not interfere legally. Could you listen to the pirates? Do you know who they are?

Jun 20, 2011 06:57 AM

WWWIII if they start fighting. I hope they find peaceful solution. According to the prophecy, war will start from the East. At the rate it is going now, we are not far from it. Cambodia and Thailand fighting, Vietnam and China, Burma and Thailand fighting, Cambodia and Vietnam possibly. Loas, Cambodia fighting Thailand etc. It is not good picture for the future.