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Vietnam Today

Damage control

Released at: 02:58, 08/10/2014

Damage control

China's acts of maritime aggression are to the detriment of all involved, including the country itself. Former Vietnamese Ambassador to Japan, H.E. Nguyen Phu Binh

The international community has never before seen China take such aggressive and provocative action as its recent moves in the East Sea and the East China Sea. While focused on projecting its power, China has refused to enter into bi-lateral or multi-lateral negotiations, openly flaunting international law and agreements in the process. This has lead to a desire for cooperation among countries with which China finds itself in dispute, to better protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Japan’s strong support and declarations of active assistance to Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as its call for unity and cooperation with ASEAN, are evidence of this desire. Japan does, of course, have an interest in the East Sea, as 70 per cent of its trade passes through the shipping route. China’s installation of an oil rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, accompanied by hundreds of ships and aircraft, and its construction of a military base on the Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef) Island and reefs in Vietnam’s Spratly Islands as an Air Defence Identification Zone, could lead to military conflict at any time and its total control over the vital shipping route.

Facing such a possibility, Japan is keen to preserve its own interests in supporting countries now in dispute with China over the East Sea. Moreover, with both local and international support for Constitutional changes that will give Japan a more active international profile, Japan’s attitude expresses its new responsibility for the preservation of peace in the region.

Vietnam-Japan: business links

Along with fighting to protect sovereignty and territorial integrity, another central task Vietnam has is in economic development, to ensure social stability and empower the country. In striving for economic progress, Japan has always been a key partner of Vietnam in investment and trade, as well as being its largest source of ODA.

Cooperation with Japan has directly contributed to three of Vietnam’s essential advancements: renovating the economic system, building economic infrastructure, and training human resources. The Japanese Government and economic organisations have been implementing the “Mutual Initiative to Improve Vietnam’s Investment Environment” with the Vietnamese Government for more than a decade and in recent times it has actively assisted Vietnam in drafting an “Industrialisation Strategy” to make Vietnam an industrialised country by 2020. Consequently, the effective utilisation of Japanese support in these fields will help to fundamentally transform the Vietnamese economy.

In the process of industrialisation and modernisation, Vietnam treasures the experience of more developed countries, especially Japan’s. Therefore, in addition to attracting funding and technology from the country, building a skilled workforce with a high sense of responsibility, community, and discipline is also an endeavour in which we should make use of Japanese support, because this was one of the most important factors that contributed to Japan’s own success in industrialisation and modernisation.

East Sea and the Vietnam-China-Japan economic triangle

Vietnam-Japan relations continue to be agreeable, while Vietnam-China and China-Japan relations have been hampered by China’s acts at sea. A few years ago, when Japan arrested a Chinese ship captain who had allegedly infringed upon Japanese waters, many Japanese factories and shops in China were destroyed. China then cut off rare-earth exports, an essential element for Japan’s high-tech industries, and Chinese tourists, the largest group of foreign visitors to Japan, shrivelled in number, upsetting the Japanese economy.

In May, when protests against China’s actions in the East Sea were seen in several provinces in Vietnam, there were also cases of damage and looting, sparking concern among foreign enterprises and foreign workers, especially those from China. Even though Vietnam immediately controlled the situation, punished those involved, and actively appeased foreign enterprises and workers, many Chinese firms were ordered to cease operations and bring their workers home.

However, China’s provocations in the East Sea and the cessation of some of its business activities in Vietnam are yet have major consequences for economic and trade relations between the two countries. The main reason for this is that if China tampers with this relationship then both sides will lose, not just Vietnam. China is not a major provider of ODA to Vietnam, nor is it one of its major investors. Chinese companies are, though, the main contributors in a number of large infrastructure projects in Vietnam and Vietnam imports a range of Chinese goods, primarily tools and equipment, but these are also available from elsewhere. For Vietnam, maintaining and developing the economic and trade relationship with China, an enormous market with a shared border, is a benefit both in the short and long terms, but the unstable nature of the relationship should drive Vietnam to seeking other means of ensuring economic stability and avoiding any over-reliance on certain partners and markets.

China and Japan’s economic relationship is a relationship between the second and third largest economies in the world, so there is a great deal of co-dependence at play. Still, after the tense political relationship seen over the last few years, Japan has been trying to reduce its reliance on material supplies from China and reduce its investment or redirect its investment from China to other more favourable countries. This is a factor that China must consider. Furthermore, China must also recognise that if they continue to act aggressively in the East Sea and East China Sea then its relations with other key partners such as the US and the EU will also deteriorate.

ASEAN-Vietnam-Japan and China

Vietnam, Japan and ASEAN all acknowledge China’s importance and influence and want China’s development to contribute positively to overall development, peace, and stability in the region and the world. It is a regrettable that China’s recent actions have raised concerns that it has discarded the “peaceful rise” approach and pursued a “rise by force” approach instead.

For this reason, Vietnam, ASEAN and Japan, as well as the international community, must cooperate closely and not allow China to act on its own. They must convince China to abide by international law, uphold bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements, and enter into good faith negotiations to endorse the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the East Sea (DoC), in order to foster effective “win-win” relationships with neighbouring countries as well as others.


Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ho Xuan Son and Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) Mr Hugo Hans Siblesz last month signed a Host Country Agreement and an Exchange of Letters on cooperation between Vietnam and the PCA. Vietnam officially confirmed the legal status of the PCA in Vietnam, allowing it to conduct peaceful measures regarding international conflicts and provide suitable assistance to inter-governmental organisations and entities in Vietnam. The two documents are expected to boost the cooperation between the two sides, especially in terms of information exchange, training, and consultancy. Mr Siblesz said that the signing of the two documents will help Vietnam gain access to arbitration procedures, enhance the respect of law, and contribute to dealing with regional conflicts. The PCA, an inter-governmental organisation with 115 members, was established to deal with intentional conflicts using peaceful measures. Vietnam joined in 2011.


Mr Jitendra Sharma, President of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), voiced support for Vietnam’s efforts to defend its sovereignty as he was welcomed by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc last month. Mr Sharma stressed that the East Sea is important not only for regional countries but also for the world. Deputy PM Phuc thanked the IADL for its support for Vietnam after China illegally placed an oil rig, escorted by over 100 ships, in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in early May. Mr Phuc also appreciated the IADL’s statement regarding escalating violence in the East Sea, which was released in Hanoi late last month. The IADL has urged China to respect international law and cease and refrain from complicating the situation in the East Sea and escalating tensions in the region, as it poses a threat to security and safe navigation. Deputy PM Phuc called for IADL’s continued support for Vietnam as the country takes subsequent steps under international law to protect its sovereignty. He also affirmed that Vietnam continually creates favourable conditions for the Vietnamese Lawyers Association to fulfil its responsibilities as a member of IADL, contributing to the protection of justice.

Ambassador Nguyen Phu Binh

Phuong Anh

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