Will Vietnam File a South China Sea Case Against China?
Will Vietnam follow the Philippines in legally challenging through international arbitration China’s claim to territories it contests in the South China Sea (SCS)? Weeks after The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s landmark ruling on July 12, an international law based decision that delegitimized most of China’s expansive claims in its controversial “nine-dash line” map for the maritime area, Vietnam’s Communist Party leaders are under rising political pressure to leverage the precedent to press its own claims over the contested Paracel archipelago.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry welcomed the tribunal’s highly anticipated ruling, saying in a statement that it “strongly supports” dispute resolution in the SCS through “peaceful measures, including diplomatic and legal procedures.” The statement also reaffirmed Vietnam’s claim to the two archipelagos (the Spratlys and the Paracels) under the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). State media have since published a series of comments by local officials and experts who have argued for filing a similar arbitration suit against China at the Hague.
Legal experts say that the tribunal’s ruling has fortified Vietnam’s position vis-à-vis China. First, the decision found China’s nine-dash line map based on so-called “historic rights” over islands and features in the South China Sea incompatible with UNCLOS and without legal basis. Second, the tribunal found that none of the contested features in the Spratly archipelago legally constitute “islands,” thereby nullifying China’s claim of a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending from the features it controls in the disputed island chain. Vietnam does not claim 200 mile EEZs in either the Spratlys or Paracels.
Tran Cong Truc, former head of Vietnam’s border affairs committee, wrote on July 22 in state newspaper Giao Duc that the ruling provided sufficient legal grounds for Vietnam to bring China to international court. While the PCA’s ruling undermined China’s EEZ claims in the Spratlys, Truc wrote that the same legal argument about what constitutes an “island” could be used to challenge China’s 200 mile EEZ claim over the Paracels. (The Paracels were not covered in the Philippines’ complaint.) Truc also argued Vietnam could take legal action against China’s persistent abuse of its fishermen, including cases of murder and sunken vessels, in the contested archipelago. Read more…