An international court decision rejecting exclusive Chinese rights to the South China Sea is being welcomed in Vietnam, whose government makes its own claims to parts of the strategic region while suppressing popular demonstrations in support of those claims.
On July 12, an arbitration tribunal in The Hague ruled in a case brought by the Philippines that China has no right to resources within the nine-dash demarcation line Beijing uses to claim 90 percent of the South China Sea.
The court also ruled that China cannot claim an exclusive economic zone around reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands, which Vietnam and other countries claim as part of their own territory and from which Chinese forces have chased away Vietnamese fishing boats
In interviews with RFA’s Vietnamese Service, citizens of Vietnam hailed the court’s decision, with some urging stronger action by Vietnam’s government in defense of their country’s own strategic rights.
“The Philippines is a small and weak country, but they stood up against [Chinese] hegemony in the South China Sea,” Le Nhan, a resident of north-central Vietnam’s coastal Nghe An province, said.
“This is good for the Philippines. But when we stand up for our own sovereignty in the South China Sea, the government of Vietnam does not support us,” Nhan said, adding, “Instead, they harass us.”
“I hope that one day Vietnam will follow the Philippines’ example and find a way to sue China in an international court to win back our territorial rights,” he said.
'Ashamed for Vietnam'
“I support the ruling,” said Huynh Hoang, a resident of southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon. “China has no claim over the South China Sea.”
“But at the same time, I am ashamed for Vietnam,” Hoang said. “[This ruling] may motivate young people in Vietnam to fight more for our own sovereignty.”
Hoang Ngoc Giao, director of a Hanoi-based nongovernmental organization studying legal policy and development, called the ruling at The Hague a victory for justice and international law.
“This is a victory not only for the Philippines but for all nations, because it will help to maintain the international legal order,” Giao said.
“It will especially help the countries that are the victims [of China] in the South China Sea,” he said.
Threat to peace, stability
Moves by China earlier this year to place anti-aircraft batteries and radar systems on disputed islands in the South China Sea, called the East Sea by Vietnam, have threatened peace and stability in the region, a Vietnamese government spokesman said in February.
Some of the world’s busiest sea lanes traverse the South China Sea, which is also a rich fishing ground and may contain petroleum reserves under the sea bed.
Taiwan and China both claim nearly the entire sea.
Vietnam and the Philippines also have large claims, while Brunei and Malaysia have smaller stakes in waters and features that lie much closer to those nations than they do to faraway China.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.