|A workshop on the Tu Chinh reef and international law (file photo)
The Chinese vessels’ activities have seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty and jurisdiction rights as defined in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to which Vietnam and China are both signatories.
“A coastal state has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds, within 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured,” stated UNCLOS.
The Chinese vessels have violated Vietnam’s sovereign rights, threatened regional peace and stability, and encroached on the freedom of passage and economic exploration of Vietnam and other states.
Violating Vietnam’s EEZ sovereign rights
The DK1 platform area, covering the Tu Chinh reef, is located within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles from the baselines and totally within Vietnam’s continental shelf. “Vietnam’s waters” is defined by the 1982 UNCLOS and is undisputed by any country, including China.
Associate Professor Doctor Le Van Cuong former Director of the Center for Strategic Studies of the Ministry of Public Security, said “The 1982 UNCLOS stipulates that a foreign state must be allowed by the local state to explore or fish within its EEZ. Without permission, China’s activities have violated international law, and the sovereignty rights and jurisdiction rights of the local state. China sending the Haiyang Dizhi-8 to Vietnam’s Tu Chinh reef has violated the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea and the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea that China signed with ASEAN countries in Cambodia.”
China has cited two reasons for its activities. First, it’s exploring within the historical waters of the 9-dash line within which China claimed sovereignty in the past. The 9-dash or U-shaped line is the sea border that China unilaterally claims in the East Sea.
This claim was rejected on July 12, 2016, by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which was formed under the 7th annex of the 1982 UNCLOS. The ruling declared that China has no legal ground to claim a right to resources within the 9-dash line.
The 9-dash line contains the Spratly archipelago, the Paracel archipelago, the Zhongsha islands, and Macclesfield Bank, equivalent to 75% of the East Sea. Chinese expert on maritime law Li Lianhua said China has ignored UNCLOS in claiming the 9-dash line.
Heedless of international law
China’s 9-dash line encroaches on 60% of Vietnam’s sea and turns Vietnam’s undisputed waters into disputed waters. This flouts international law. The PCA that decided the Philippines’ suit against China rejected China’s 9-dash line claim as baseless and without merit.
Although China didn’t attend the trial and said it does not accept the PCA’s ruling, the legal decision remains valid. China has no legal grounds to dispute the DK1 platform area, including the Tu Chinh reef, with Vietnam.
Professor Alexander Vuving, a senior expert with the US’s Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, said “China has a one-sided view of international law. Its bold sovereignty claims in the East Sea are at odds with international law.
China has used its power to bend international law to its self-interests. It wants to put pressure on Vietnam and other ASEAN countries to adapt the COC to its own ambitions.”
The Haiyang Dizhi-8 and its escorts have extended their activities into Vietnam’s EEZ to create a new status quo, put into dispute Vietnam’s legal waters, and threaten peace, security, and stability in Vietnam’s waters.
Forcing Vietnam to accept joint exploration is a ruse to turn Vietnam’s legal waters into a disputed area and then seize it. It’s all part of China’s dangerous scheme to monopolize the East Sea.