Vietnam never stops encroaching activities in South China Sea

China Military Online
Zhang Tao

Written by Si Zhentao

BEIJING, Dec. 21 (ChinaMil) -- The South China Sea situation has become more complicated after the so-called arbitration, but it has been alleviated in the past two years thanks to the united efforts of China and relevant countries.

Under such circumstance, Vietnam, an important stakeholder, has changed its tune on the South China Sea issue in order to protect the overall situation of domestic economic development and national security.

However, foreign media recently reported that new facilities such as dry dock appeared on the West Reef of the Vietnam-occupied Nansha Islands, which means Vietnam hasn't reduced its encroaching activities in that region even though it wishes to maintain stability there.

Vietnam has taken the following measures in the past few years on the South China Sea issue.

Pushing island and reef construction

In fact, Vietnam's capital construction on the Nansha islands and reefs is far more than the West Reef. Relevant materials show that in 2016 alone, Vietnam "renovated and filled" ten islands and reefs it occupies.

Due to financial and technical limitations, many of the projects were carried out by hand. That's why western media always say that Vietnam's construction on Nansha islands and reefs is of a "very small scale", but this "ant house moving" approach can also enhance its control and expansion capability there in the long term.

In addition to island and reef expansion, Vietnam has also built and improved school, hospital, hotel, aquatic products processing plant and other infrastructure on those maritime features, with the aim to improve the living and working condition, stabilize and increase residents and eventually have a tighter control of those features.

Strengthening sea area control

In June this year, Vietnam's exploration activities at Vanguard Bank put a damp blanket on the China-Vietnam relation, but that's only one of the moves taken by Vietnam in the South China Sea that had a stronger influence.

In the past two years, Vietnam has conducted a series of activities in the Xisha and Nansha sea areas continuously and frequently on the excuse of operating or managing its "exclusive economic zone" and "traditional fishing farm".

But its fishery, scientific investigation and resource exploration activities were always followed by coast guard, fishery administration and maritime search and rescue.

It's troubling that Vietnam's activities are highly targeted. In May this year, the South China Sea was in fishing off season, but the Vietnamese government issued a document that encouraged its fishermen to fish in the South China Sea that month.

According to information from Vietnam's Ouang-ngai province opposite Xisha, 25 Vietnamese fishing boats had conflicts with the Chinese side in 2017.

Building up the momentum

Apart from enhancing the civilians' "sovereignty" awareness through exhibition, publicity and classroom education, Vietnam has also organized symposiums, travel, donation and island visits to engage all social circles in "safeguarding sovereignty".

By taking these activities, Vietnam has kept the South China Sea a hot topic in the country, "pulled together the people's support" and "demonstrated its resolve".

In the meantime, Vietnam has carried out strong publicity in the international community.

"Observing international laws and maintaining the freedom of navigation" was like a catchphrase for Vietnamese leaders at almost all important diplomatic occasions.

Officials and scholars actively expressed their stance on various occasions, religious figures went abroad to hold ceremonies for soldiers that died in the sea battle of Nansha, and academic organizations held South China Sea-themed symposium in Latin America.

These steps were aimed to establish Vietnam as a weak, peaceful and reasonable party on the South China Sea issue and gain sympathy, understanding and support in the international community.

Seeking cooperation with "allies"

Vietnam has repeatedly expressed in public its welcome of countries outside the South China Sea region, such as the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, to play a "constructive role" in the region, and has taken their side when those countries were in tension with China, in hopes of getting their support and assistance on the South China Sea issue.

Vietnam has intensified the maritime cooperation with countries that have maritime disputes with China, including Japan, ROK, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, ranging from mutual visits and training of officials to joint exercise and experience exchange on law enforcement.

Stepping up military preparations

It's frequently reported in recent years that Vietnam is actively promoting the development of its navy and air force. It must be stressed that Vietnam's military modernization targeting the South China Sea is focused on "defense" and intended to create effective deterrence and prevent maritime disputes from harming its vested interests in the South China Sea and even homeland security.

However, the build-up of military "defensive" will doubtlessly strengthen its "offensive" in the South China Sea, including in political, diplomatic, administrative and civilian sectors.

The author is executive director of the China Society for Southeast Asian Studies and a scholar on Vietnam issues.